Sunday, February 28, 2016

First Book Cover Shoot (Kelly)

Following on from here...

Well, finally, and after several weeks of getting things together, my wife and I finally managed to get together with the lovely Kelly at Shelley Beach (Caloundra, Qld, Australia) to see if we could make this work.

The southern part Shelley Beach is a rocky flat, which is covered by water at high tide and exposed to 100+m at low tide.

Last Friday afternoon, even at low tide, the swell driven by cyclone Winston was far higher than usual, and the flats were covered with wide expanses of shallow patches of water. Not ideal, but there were higher-lying areas.

Kelly brought a few outfits we were going to try. I brought props—short blunt sword, bow and arrows, etc. And a camera. My wife acted as a second shooter and also provided some documentation of 'the-making-of' type.

The light was just right, with the trees along the shoreline—on the flat as well as a small promontory—providing almost perfect shadows. Only problem was that at this time of day the sun settles very quickly and you really have to make the best out of the light while it lasts.

So, here are a few of the shots, with Kelly in various costumes and heroic poses, plus a few action-type shots. Some of the shots will be useful for cover design; others provided Kelly with some visible proof for her portfolio that she can do more than model your standard boring beach pictures. It was all new for her, but she did great; trying out poses that she'd obviously studied, based on concept images that I'd sent around to all of my little 'crew', as I like to think of them.


And for some monochrome images... 

A tweak with blue and yellow filters highlights Kelly's hair and darkens the sky.
The color original is right at the top.
Not a bad start. Some of the images will have the model isolated and superimposed on a new background. But it seems to me, like it may be a workable option to just remove the ocean and leave the rocks in some cases.

This is also a classic case of how, once you start interacting with real people, concepts meet reality and may be changed from their initial form. Been there before. It's a good thing—except for control freaks who have issues with going with the flow, of course! Life makes life so much more interesting.

Note: All the images above were imported to my Mac and subsequently processed in Capture One 9 Pro, without the use of any other software.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Obligations for Shooting TFP

My book cover project is strictly TFP, meaning there’s no money in it for the models. And this appears to bring out the worst in some people—as I expected, but I didn’t expect the percentage of duds to be as high as it seems to be.

Reminds me of early last decade, when I decided to make Dating Blind, just for the heck of it and because I could. My own script; romcom with Shakespearean overtones, but nothing world-shaking; strictly limited budget ($NZ 600-sh) all of it used for equipment hire, location hire and catering. Definitely nothing for the actors or other crew.

So, I put out the word through one of my daughters, who was studying drama at Otago University, and arranged for two proper auditions at a particular, easily accessible location—nothing in Dunedin is really hard to access!—at sensible times of weekend days. 10am-4pm, I think. Had flyers distributed with the times, phone numbers for contacts, script extracts and basic plot elements for the audition available on demand. Plenty of advance notice to make sure everybody could plan their lives if they chose to be interested.

Audition proceeded as planned; mostly. Most of those who showed up were acting students, usually in heir 20s. One was in her 30s. I also had some small roles and ‘extra’ places for a bunch of other people, mostly friends, who didn’t need to audition.

Most of those showing had learned their lines and pulled off their parts with varying degrees of success. Of all of those, the very last female student auditioning—she only decided in the last moment to attend, but showed up on time on day 2!—ended up being my female lead. Probably just as well, as after her performance the others wouldn’t have gotten a looking.

That applies especially to those who showed up either late (“I thought you finished at 5” “Missed my bus, sorry!” etc etc) or hadn’t learned their lines (“I didn’t know about that!” “Just didn’t have the time to go through it.” “Can you give me a few minutes to learn it?” “Can I just read it?” etc etc) or both. You get the idea...

I bet that if this had been a paid gig, they would have displayed a different attitude. Or maybe not. Actually, quite possibly not—because some people are just weird. And dumb.

Over a decade later, we have repeat performances along the same lines—and I was reminded that when people say “I would love to take part in this project”, until they actually follow up with actions that show that they do, it’s wise to add either one or all of the following “…unless I come across something better”, “…if it’s convenient for me at the time”, “…if I have nothing better to do”.

So far, four people have given every hint that they will follow through, and that when they say they’re committed, they mean it. Three of them have made initial meeting times and they’ve actually been there and available to chat and to a get-to-know-each-other on time; helpful and enthusiastic. Their motivations differ—I always dig for the ‘motivation’ angle—but they have the intelligence and/or ‘character’ that makes them into people one can rely on. Number four—and I think I can close off recruitment at this stage—and I will meet tomorrow; but I have every confidence that she'll be on board.

All these people appear to share mental attitudes incorporating a mix of passion for what they're doing or going to do, a sense of enterprise and wanting to push into new directions, and a sense that when you say you're 'in' then you are. I love people like that. Really do. They make work into fun. And if you're not having fun, what the hell are you doing in the 'creative' universe?

And then there are the others. You know, the ones who really, really want to participate in the project, say they're 100% on board, but then suddenly become unavailable. Or the kind that really, really, really want to this and assure you that they want to push their envelope. And then you arrange a meeting time and even change your own and another potential model’s meeting time—only to be told on the morning of the meeting day, and I quote, “ it possible if we could delay the meeting and catch up on a Friday or Monday next week? I have alot on my cards at the moment. I am definitely would love to work with you.” (Remember: “…if it’s convenient for me at the time”? That was just another way of phrasing it.)

Yeah. Whatever. We all have a lot on our cards. I was battling it out with myself, but I’ve decided to give this guy a miss. Wasn't planning to use him anyway, but then decided to give him a chance despite me knowing better. (Just not the type I was looking for. Nothing personal, but I mentioned in my initial ad that I had a vision of the characters I needed.) And I can’t work with people who do not have a sense of responsibility and follow through on their commitments. If your schedule or whatever happens in your life isn't going to make a commitment feasible, then say so.

Indeed, one of my potential models turned out to have some serious family issues to deal with that she obviously hadn’t anticipated when she first responded. And that’s fine. She told me what happened, and I’m really and truly sorry for her being in that position. There are many things in life infinitely more important than some model shoot. But she told me as soon as she knew that it wasn't going to work; we talked about it; and I was fine and we parted on terms of mutual respect. If she ever wants to have me do any kind of shoot for her, I’ll do it for free and make a time to suit her. I respect people who deserve respect and am willing to show that I do.

Now, some of you might think “What does he expect, if he isn’t paying for it?”

Fair enough, but wrong!

I am paying for it. Going back to my movie enterprise, there was quite a bit of payback for some of those who actually wanted to follow up the ‘acting’ path. They continued the work, either pro-bono or being paid pittances on a local scale; while others went on to roles in NZ TV series or other ‘entertainment’ activities. For some, participation in the making of a feature-length movie taught them more in two weeks than film school would have in two years. (Same applied to me, of course!)

That alone was ‘payment’. As was their appearance in a flick that they could put on their CV.

The same goes for someone participating in a TFP-type shoot. The photographer—and that is his/her obligation in this!—will spend hours and possibly days processing the photos and getting the best ones to the model(s). In my case, the models also get a free shoot of their own choosing modeling/portraiture theme(s), which is yet more material for their portfolios—as it is for photographer’s! And, given the ho-hum shots I see  on so many FB and acting-site pages, some imagination and pizzazz might not come amiss. Whatever happened to imagination? Did it die some horrible death and was replaced by weirdo-dom passing itself off as 'creative'?

Anyway, here’s what I would like to say to models who think that anything which isn’t paid for in money is something ‘optional' that you can drop when it becomes convenient—even though you’ve committed to it!—without losing any sleep over it...

If you think that kind of behavior is OK, think again. It’s not just not-OK. It’s stupid. Because in this business the currency that will always give you a serious extra edge over those who compete with you at your level—especially when you live in a small world where word-of-mouth has power—is called ‘reputation’. Forget that and you will pay for it. Dearly.

One of the greatest asset for someone in anything having to do with the ‘performing arts’, of which modeling is a part, is a reputation for ‘reliability’. This is a business where other people’s reputation could well depend on you to sticking to your commitments. And reputation is income. Deliver crap when you’re expected to deliver quality, and your reputation takes a dive. Don’t do what you signed up to do—whether for monetary payment or not—and in the end you will learn the meaning of ‘tailspin’.

So, as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t want to do TFP and get nothing but pictures and experience, that’s perfectly fine with me. But if you sign up for it—and a verbal, texted or emailed “I’m on board with the project” in my book qualifies as a ‘sign up’. Meaning that I expect you to do what you can to stick to your commitments—unless there’s something serious, over and above mere ‘inconvenience’, stopping you—in the same way as I will bend over backward to stick to mine.

Fair exchange; don’t you think?

Now, to the photographers; the ones that recruit for TFP shoots. You also have a responsibility, and the 'reputation' thing goes doubly and triply for you! If you have booked people in for a TPF shoot, then that time is blocked out on your calendar for everything else, even if that everything else pays you thousands of dollars. You have made a commitment and other people have arranged their lives and time to suit your timetable.

So, if somebody comes to you with an emergency wedding shoot, maybe because the other photographer went AWOL, and is willing to pay you 10k, but you'll have to do it at the same time as you had that TFP shoot blocked into your calendar...

What are you going to do?

Rule 1: Stick to your commitment. If you lose the 10k, tough shit.

But maybe there's are solutions. While still sticking to Rule 1, call your TFP shoot particpants and explain. Find some way to compensate them for the inconvenience. Offer them something that makes them happy with the postponement. Offer additional goodies for a postponed TFP—and follow through with them! In my experience, there's always a solution, even if it may cost you money and time. Just use your imagination.

And if there is no solution? What if your TFP participants, or at least some of them, aren't willing to work with you on this?

Well, then its Rule 1, sorry. In the long run the good word-of-mouth filtering through the grapevine of the community will pay off more than you'd believe. Why? Because you're part of rare breed and provide something to this business that goes beyond money and strutting and "look at me!": personal and professional integrity.

Maybe some people will laugh behind your back and call you a naive and idealistic fool. So maybe you are. Or maybe not. Maybe you're smarter than all of them, because you've looked beyond immediate profit to reap the rewards later. Besides, you have to live with yourself, look at yourself in the mirror. Wouldn't you prefer to actually like the person looking back at you?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Never Give Up

Some things I hate.
  • "Coming into town." Any damn town really, even though this line is a quote from the 'Drover' character in the movie Australia. A few select towns are exempt. Very few.
  • Traffic.
  • Cluttered beaches.
So, on Valentine's Day my wife and I went to Noosa Heads, Queensland, to do some location scouting in the Noosa National park. We thought we left home early, but by the time we got there—9 a.m.—the place was crowded, no parking space available anywhere near the National Park entrances, and the beach was littered with slabs of meat and bone in various states or torpor.


Trying to get something positive out of what looked like a wasted trip (100+ km each way) we trundled through the town for a while, ambled along a heavily-trafficked boardwalk along the tourist infested coastline. 

Compulsive me of course was looking for things to shoot. (With a camera! But you knew that, right?)

From the town itself I got these two pictures, which kinda made it worthwhile.

Chrome central.

Very young Scrub Turkey chick—but already out on the town! 

I also went into a shop selling 'art'. Expensive 'art'. Thousands of dollars for indifferent abstract paintings that would have been utterly obscure in their meaning hadn't it been for the titles and supporting blurbs explaining what they were all about. Plus 'decorative' landscapes. Almost all oversaturated so much it hurt the eye—even though, as I was assured, they were all done with a 'film' camera, and the name 'Hasselblad' thrown in, just to impress poor little me, carrying my trusty D610—and thinking to myself that there's a lot to be said for digital. And the frames. OMG!

And that was about it. Two snaps and a brief adventure in oversaturation land.

But fate favors the persistent. Often enough to be persistent, I think.

And so, driving home much sooner than intended, we stopped for a brief walk in the 32ºC heat (90+% humidity) at a beach along the way; just a few miles down the road, really.

Not quite as crowded and with some surprising objects of interest.

So, the trip wasn't quite in vain, even though we need to return to the original destination sometime soon.  And, yes, this could be a very cool and subtle backdrop for a model shoot. Just would have to make sure the sand around the grasses is left undisturbed.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fine Art Photography — A Personal View (Part 2)

Following on from this post...

(If you haven't read that post what follows may sound obscure, since it implicitly refers to things I've mentioned in there.)

One of the subtexts—sometimes made explicit—in most definitions of 'fine art' and especially 'fine art photography' is intentionality on the part of the photographer-as-artist. Meaning that when the photo is created there is an intention, whether the artist knows it or not, to create a work that conveys some vision, meaning, subtext, message, whatever. The intent may range from capturing the beauty—bright or dark, for there are so many shades and colors!—of a landscape or a nude woman, to wanting to lay bare human suffering in the world. And everything in between and outside that; the potential scope is too vast to outline it in a few words.

But intentionality is always assumed to be involved, conscious or unconscious.

Let's restrict our discussion here to photographers, even though it extends to all 'artists' with some fairly small changes to the text.

Question: If you take a photo and then process it—maybe just a few tweaks; or maybe some major 'adjustments; or maybe major extra work, with additions of non-photographic image components—at what stage does the original photo become 'fine art'? When it's taken? When it's processed? When it becomes a component in what could be a larger work? And in that case, is the photo itself still a 'fine art' thing, or is the real potential 'fine art' object the one the photo becomes a part of?

Here's an example of what I mean—relevant to something I'm doing right now—and, though 'illustration' and 'cover art' is often dismissed as not worthy of being labeled 'fine art', the basic argument stands.

So, I took this photo of a man, standing against a wall with a sword in his hand.* The intention of this shot was to represent a man standing in front of the open door of a futuristic landing craft, which was discovered underneath an old building in a city on a planet that exists only in my imagination—plus a bunch of novels I wrote about it.

Maybe in this day and age, where bad 'art' is rampant, I could pass this photo off as deliberate 'art' with some pretentious claptrap , with weirdo meta-meanings—I don't know, maybe call it "Warrior without a Foe" or "Warrior without a Purpose" or something or other—and alter it to look like it was meant as anything more than it really was. Like this maybe?

Monochromic something instantly add an 'arty' element. I also removed the distracting elements at the bottom in what one might think of as a 'rising darkness' slowly enveloping him from below and presumably eventually swallowing him.

Plus what you don't know is that this picture is actually a crop of the original, with a rule-of-thirds applied to the model's head.

You know, I'm thinking of working on these pose images a bit—there are more with different positions and weapons against the same background—and see if I can fob them off as 'fine art photography'. I mean, why not? So many people do it; and most of it is at best 'average' and at worst just plain crap.

I spent about 20 minutes on cropping, mono-chroming and making some pretend-fine-art-photography out of this picture. Does that convert it from a mediocre model shot to something arty? I mean, all I wanted was a model for this:

My conclusion, cynical as it may sound—but therefore not necessarily incorrect—is that what you can pass of as 'fine art photography' is a question of marketing. Fashion. Culture. Zeitgeist. Same as applies to all 'art'.

All terminology after all is a matter of context and dates. Plus, when it comes to 'art', the tastes—or lack thereof—and gullibility of those willing to pay for it are major factors.

There are many, many really good and completely 'unrecognized' artists out there. For many of them, the lack of recognition is partially their own doing. If you don't put your art 'out there', who's going to know it exists, among the torrents of artistic products in all sorts of domains flooding the internet and clamoring for the attention? And then you wonder why you look at some of what's promoted as 'art', and it's like W–T–F–??

And then there's this, of course.

Hmm, yes.

If it looks like I'm giving up on the 'fine art photography' thing...well, I am. I don't have much time for labels anyway, even though the marketplace thrives on them. You've got to pigeonhole your work somehow, no matter how galling that is.

So, what to do about it?

Way I see it, just go about your business and produce images that you like, are proud of, would hang on your wall or display without embarrassment in a public space. Then see what people label it as—because label it they will!—and just go with that. Go with the flow. If your work is good—on whatever level—there'll be people who love it; and sure as night following day, there will be those that dismiss/hate/trash it. If both, positive and negative, reactions are forthcoming, you know you've created something worthwhile—and not just in your own space, but 'out' in the world at large.

And, yes, you do need the haters. If everybody loves your stuff, there's something wrong with it, because it doesn't go deep enough. Anything that goes deep enough—sneaks in under their guard without them being able to stop it—will piss off somebody. The worst you could possibly face is benign "like"s—á la Facebook—or indifference.

Do your work and do it in such a way that it gets under your skin, too. Give it a character that's more than just what you saw or conceived when you created it; so that it takes over as its own thing, much like characters in a novel can take over from the novelist. (That's happened to me more often than once.) Then it doesn't matter what label is slapped on it. Then it'll stand supreme above the criticism of petty non-creatives or jealous wannbes.

That's the best you can aim for. That's 'creating' something.

* Actually, that was me, because I didn't have a male model at the time. Cheap 7Mpix Sony Cybershot, using the self-timer. Not the most effective way of doing this. But you do what you have to do.

Moving Right Along

Progress report on the cover project. Kind of. I tend to digress a lot.

First of all about why you should never waste an opportunity to take photos and then process them to get the most out of them.

So, I went to Caloundra (Sunshine Coast, Queensland) to do an initial meet with one of my prospective models, and happened to chance upon a location possibility I hadn't known existed. Logistically sensible, since the model lives close—and she has a family and small kids! So, had a look around and found some interesting possibilities.

Google maps shows the waterfront when the tide is out.

But the tide was in. No matter; the map image gives me an idea how much dry land (sand and flat rocks) there is when the tide is out, and being there showed me what we get when the tide is in.

So, this is a shot from some distance away of the location I'm interested in. The outcrop, high and low parts. Ideal for some great poses; and subjects can usually be easily isolated against water and sky.

So, that's where we'll go.

But wait, there's more! Maybe for shooting. Maybe not. But the loaction and another one just on the other side of that outcrop provides for some cool pictures anyway. Here are some of them. And not just of the land and sea. In Australia looking up is usually worthwhile when there are trees around—and not just so you don't get crapped on!

BTW, I tend to explore the possibilities of mono-chroming suggestive images as a matter of habit. You never know what comes out of it.

But back to models. The day before the Caloundra shoot I visited my prospective assassin model. I also have other uses for him, but when I went there "assassin" was on my mind. Gave him a pretend wakizsashi as a prop and we went into a small cinema in an apartment complex, shuffled some furniture about so that I had a clear shot at the black curtain on one side. Big French door/window let in a nice pane of light; so I turned off the flash and went with what was there.

As a long-term practitioner of Japanese swordcraft, I tend to forget just how hard it was to learn how to handle what is a very specialized weapon. Even if it's pretend, the action still has to be right, or else it just looks posed. And I want to make my covers looking un-posed. Which, as world-class wedding photographers like Gerry Ghionis will tell you, is really hard; especially if you do pose them. So, we ended up with a mini sword class for Graham, which eventually gave me an unintended shot; which in turn made me think of an 'action' cover pose/configuration that I hadn't thought before.

I may have mentioned before that the secret to good photography—and film-directing as well, as I know from experience—is not just skill and the ability to 'see', but also the willingness to embrace the unexpected and allow it to nudge your creative juices.

Waste nothing!

Anyway, here's Graham, in the pose that nudged my thinking into a different direction. That seems to happen a lot. I have a sneaking suspicion that with the women there's going to be a lot of that.