Monday, May 23, 2011

My Waterfall

Water Witch
I love shooting models in water. If you don't believe me, ask my wife. She's been in enough rivers, lakes, streams and seas over the years as a subject in my photos that she complained once of getting webbed feet. She was always a good sport about it, but has drawn the line at the freezing waters of the Pacific Northwest (well, mostly - that's her in the image to the right).

There are a few places where I like to shoot water glamour, but one of my favorite places is a little waterfall in the Tillamook Forest. I've written about it before, but it's worth another mention a few years later, especially since I've done a bit more photography there during the intervening time.

Tropical Cathy
One of the things I like about the area is the different backgrounds you can achieve by varying your distance from the falls, changing the angle from which you're shooting, and choosing the time of day for the shoot. Each variable creates and different look, color and atmosphere to the image.  Additionally, you can get up and away from the falls and get a totally different feel for the images.  There are logs, ledges and small trails all around the falls and each spot offers new opportunities.

Glamorous Sierra
Shoot facing away from the falls, and a completely different view of vegetation, water and earth tones form the backdrop. At the right time of day, warm sunlight scatters through the surrounding trees and produces a dappled pattern of shadows and light on the ground. Pose a model in this environment and the potential for an exquisite image increases exponentially.

There are other areas around the falls that provide equally photogenic settings, but I haven't explored those areas nearly as much as I have the base of the falls, the stream and the surrounding ledges. With any luck, I'll get a chance to remedy that this summer.

Now, if you're truly interested in shooting here, ask me nicely and I might give you directions. You'll have to provide your own models though, and be sure not to misplace your keys as there is definitely no cell service at the falls (don't ask, it's a long and embarrassing story).

Waterfall Nymph

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cathedral Park Revisted

Tropical Audi
With the return of warm weather, fleeting as it is this week, I've started thinking about summer shoots in Cathedral Park, both with models and with my family. The park has so many delightful areas in which to shoot and I want to explore many more of them this summer. I'd especially like to do more Barefoot Glamour images and some portraiture, but it would also be fun to do portraits of my own family in the park as well, and I'm setting aside some time for that as well.

I've written about the park in the past, but it's worth repeating that by selectively choosing different areas in the park, the atmosphere of the image can be made to look tropical, urban, woodland and any other number of scenarios. The St. Johns Bridge offers many unique backdrops, but there is also a set of rail tracks that run through the park, a long pier and dock. a small beach area, fields, trees, buildings, and a number of other structures.

Light, Texture and Beauty
I particularly like the light and the textures directly underneath the bridge. The bridge provides an extensive area of open shade, but enough light filters through at an angle to provide a bit of contrast to intensify the colors. The concrete pillars and the painted steel provide a textural and color contrast with the grass, trees and other vegetation that abound throughout the park.

There are certain drawbacks to an urban park, of course. While the city of Portland does a great job of preventing and removing graffiti from public lands, inevitably there will be some trash and debris, mainly cigarette butts that have to be picked up from the shoot area. On occasion, I have had to remove liquor bottles and beer cans as well, but I've seen a lot worse in other areas. My recommendation is to take a small trash bag with you just in case you need it. It never hurts to leave a place in a little better shape than in which you found it.

Stairs and Arches

Urban Lines and Curves

Friday, May 13, 2011

Get Your Critique Heard

A Different Perspective

If you are a photographer, writer, painter or simply someone who loves viewing art and providing feedback to the creator of that art, you should be aware that often the content of your critique can be utterly dismissed simply by the manner in which you offer it. Anyone can provide a critique, and most do. Stating something as simple as "I like that" is a critique. It's not a very good critique and it doesn't help the artist improve, but it is a critique nonetheless. Likewise, "that sucks" or "that's not my cup of tea" is equally valid as a critique, and is similarly dismissed out of hand as not being useful.

Often opinions are offered simply to express the appeal, or the lack thereof, of a work, to stroke the artist's ego, or to stroke the ego of the person providing the comment (I can do better than that.) If, however, your objective is to help the artist improve or, at the very least, to consider your perspective, you need to be able to convey your message effectively.  Anyone can provide a critique, but having your opinions heard, understood, and accepted as valid is more about a constructive approach to communicating those opinions than the actual opinion itself.

The key to getting your comments understood, accepted, and considered is to provide respectful, polite, and even-handed commentary. If your goal is to help the artist improve, you should also provide constructive critique.

Find What Appeals to You
Constructive critique not only identifies the issues the viewer perceives with the work, but also provides suggestions on how to improve the work. Constructive critique is all the better if you can offer some specific technical recommendations to the artist, but even if you're not an expert or even familiar with the artist's medium of choice, you can offer constructive critique of a generalized nature. Your goal shouldn't be to tell the artist how to recreate his or her work according to your standards, but to identify how the work could be made to be more appealing to you. You may not be the artist's intended audience, but you can have a valid opinion about how the work makes you feel and what could be modified to make the artists future work more appealing to you, i.e. how to expand the intended audience. It's up to the artist to consider and then accept or reject your comments, but there are certain approaches that will virtually guarantee your opinion will not even be briefly considered.

There's no faster way to have your commentary rejected, deleted, and any future communications promptly ignored than to approach the artist with anything less that politeness. You may absolutely hate the artist’s work, but if your goal is to get the artist to heed your opinion, you are not going to do it by being mean spirited or disrespectful in your approach. It's said that respect has to be earned, and if you want the artist to respect your thoughts, you have to provide respect as part of the process of delivering your opinion. So drop the snarky or condescending attitude and be polite and gracious with your words. Even if you're an expert in the artist's field, there is no reason to adopt a know-it-all attitude. Obviously your words will carry more weight if you are indeed an expert, but a gracious novice will influence the artist far more than an arrogant expert ever will.

Be Polite and Respectful
Avoid name-dropping. Telling someone that another artist wouldn't do it that way or that so-and-so said to do this won't help you to get anyone to meekly accept your opinion. One goal of art is to be unique, and good artists strive for that. They aspire to have their own style. An appeal to authority generally doesn't work with an artist.

 While it is important to be honest when presenting your opinions, don't confuse honesty with meanness. With some thought, you can truthfully state your perspective without resorting to unkindness. Malice has no place in a constructive critique and will shut down your communication faster than almost anything else. Too many people try to use “honesty” as an excuse for petty cruelty. These people seem to enjoy pointing all the flaws in a piece of work as spitefully as they can. When they get called on it their claim is that they are “simply being honest and the artist can’t take an honest critique.”  Honesty is good. It does neither the artist nor the viewer any good to receive a less than truthful critique. But anyone with at least half a brain knows the difference between honest and just plain mean.

So, what can be done to make your commentary more likely to be considered, accepted, and utilized by the artist? There are a number of approaches that can be used, singly and in various combinations, but you should start by finding something positive to say about the work. Always strive to start with that.   If, after thorough consideration, you can't find at least one positive aspect to the work, then reconsider whether the piece is even worthy of the critique. After all, why should you go to the effort of providing the critique if it’s so awful as to have no redeeming qualities and you simply can’t help the individual improve?

Consider the artist's perspective and the message (if any) that he or she is trying to convey. Tell the artist what you perceive the message to be and how effectively the piece “spoke” to that message. If you feel the message is weak, explain why you think so and offer any suggestions you might have on how to improve the delivery of the concept.

Be Honest, but don't be Mean
Strive to identify both the "good" and the "bad" about the piece. Usually some components of the art will appeal to you while others will not. The better the work, the more elements you’ll find that appeal to you. For example, the composition may be appealing, but the artist's choice of colors may not. The artist may have used fantastic lighting or an excellent brush technique, but the choice of the subject might be not be to your taste. As clearly and concisely as possible, explain what you find appealing and in equal measure explain what you don't like about the piece. For either, but especially for what you don't like, suggest improvements and provide examples (if possible). You may not always be able to offer valid suggestions, but any attempt to do so will be more appreciated than not.

Finally, when summarizing, identify the overall impact and appeal the piece has for you and provide some words of encouragement, even if that means suggesting another avenue of creative expression. Of course, you may not have the time or the inclination to follow all the advice provided in this article, but if nothing else, you should understand that kindness, respect and encouragement will do far more to get your message across than any level of expertise or experience you can claim.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Recovery and Summer Shoot Planning

Random OCF Attendee
Since I'm confined to the house for a few days, it seems like an opportune time to write a bit and share some plans for the summer shooting season.  I'm good at planning my shoots, and I can generally stick to the plans allowing for some deviations for creative flexibility. Good planning helps me stay on track for my projects, and I leave some latitude in the scope of the shoot so that I'm not constrained so much I can't take the shoot in a different direction if the creative flow takes me there.

My wife, Wanda, will be gone for about three weeks this summer on a visit to our family in Arizona, so I'll probably be shooting at least a few projects during that time frame, including at least a day at the Oregon Country Fair. The OCF is an event that I routinely shot for about 5 years, but I haven't gone in the last couple of years due to family commitments. I'd like to get back there this year just for some general people photography, as there are always interesting costumes, presentations, music and people at the fair. It may also be a good opportunity to pass out some of my business cards to get paying clients for some of my photographic specialties.

I'll also be shooting quite a bit more of my Military Glamour project this summer.  This is a subset of my Barefoot Glamour project, but with an emphasis on a military flavor with the costumes and props. Several of my regular models have expressed an interest in working on this project with me as it gives them a different look for their portfolio.  This is also a good genre for new clients as it gives a person an opportunity to have a sexy shoot done for their military boyfriend or husband.

April in Soft Focus
These shoots are also quite fun, as they are logistically easy to set up, shoot, and post-process and that means I can concentrate more of the creative aspects of the shoot: the composition, the lighting, and posing the model. Since I have a variety of military themed outfits and props, there's very little expense in the shoot for me or the model.  Now, if I could only find a costume like Christina Aguilera wore in her video, Candy Man.

Another theme I want to explore this season, is Steampunk. I haven't actually shot any images using the style yet, but I've been researching the costumes and props and it seems like it will be fun to both shoot and design. I know of some good outdoor locations to shoot and I've compiled a list of props that should be fairly easy and inexpensive to acquire. A number of models have already expressed interest in shooting this with me, and several of them are very creative with their costuming ability, so there is the opportunity for even more variety in the shoots, from very sexy to almost Victorian prudishness.

There are several more projects in the works as well and they're all quite different from what I've shot in the past. I also want to try some concepts that I've considered in the past, but haven't taken the time to attempt - light painting, random faces, abandoned nudes, and fabric suspension. I may not get to try them all, but I at least have a list of concepts from which to work.  I certainly hope to have a fun and creative summer with my photography and with my family.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Kira and her Posse
I managed to get in one last shoot before a medically induced hiatus that starts next week. Since I will be unable to kneel or bear pressure on my left knee for the rest of May and into the first couple of weeks of June,  I took advantage of St. Merrique's visit to Portland to do a quick shoot Friday afternoon. She's a great model with a fantastic smile and some terrific poses and expressions and we had a fun shoot and she gave me some great images.

Merrique is a good friend of another model of mine, Kira (also known as Floofie), and I took advantage to that to shoot the both of them together and to get a few new images of Kira. You can see her with her posse of skulls in the image to the left. Kira and I have agreed to work together on a number of projects this summer, our mutual schedules permitting, and we'll be doing more conceptual work with some included social commentary.

I shot Merrique for my soon to be retired Sword & Sorcery project, but we also got some fun images in gypsy attire and with a large chain. Merrique is able to pull off a mysterious and exotic look that goes well with the project, and I hope that I'll be able to work with her again in the near future.

Merrique in her Lair.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Planning, working, and soon, recovering.

Jasmine in Shadow
I'm working on plans for my summer shoots. I want to wrap up my existing projects and move on to some different concepts and explore other avenues in my photography, including some collaborative projects with another photographer and artist. That's not to say, I won't revisit these current projects from time to time, but I really need to work on some new stuff that challenges my technical and compositional techniques.

The key to this is finding the right models, locations and props for the new projects, as well as determining the lighting and ambiance necessary to complete the compositions I have in mind. I definitely want to experiment more with lighting techniques including light painting, low key shots, and different frequencies (UV, infrared) of light.

I'm also planning on trying some different costume concepts - Steampunk, Victorian Pinup, Glamour Goth, etc. I'm also open to other suggestions as well from other creative people.

In the meantime, surgery is scheduled for Tuesday the 10th and with any luck, my knee will be fully recovered by the time I starting shooting in earnest.