Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Lighting Journey

Holy crap. It's cool that you can look back at old blogs from awesome photographers. I find that revelations that photographers had are eye-opening to me years after they had them. So I thought I'd share something that I'm still soaking in....

Thank you Mr. Hobby.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Focal Length - Can it compress/expand your photograph or not?

Focal length v Compression & Expansion v Myth

Recently during Zack Arias' creativeLIVE course I discovered (among a gabillion other things) that focal length choices can have a considerable impact on the background behind the subjects in our photographs. Notably, that wide angles can expand the background by pushing objects in the background away while telephoto lenses can compress the background by pulling objects in the background closer. Within hours of hearing Zack's argument, I heard a counter argument that suggests that focal length has no effect on the background behind the subjects in our photographs.

What I've come to notice over the various arguments on either side of this debate is something so simple, yet so complex. All of these arguments come back to the basic principle of The Order of Operations. For those that haven't taken a math course recently (myself included) allow me to elaborate:

When are present with a problem like the following example, there are certain methods we are taught that help us solve the problem.

8 + 5 x 3 – 7 ÷ 2 = ?

If we simply move from left to right we get an answer of 16, and 16 is a real number that exists in real life. However, if we follow the rules our old, decrepit math teachers gave us (PEMDAS*, being Parentheses-Exponents-Multiply-Divide-Add-Subtract) we get an answer of 19.5 which is also a real number that exists in real life. So why the different result? When we approach a problem where we start has a direct and considerable result on the final solution.

How does this apply to photography? Easily: If you change the order of events in which you take a photograph it can have a considerable difference in the end result. We have several factors to consider when making a photograph:
  • Camera-to-subject distance (working distance)
  • Camera-to-background distance
  • Focal length
  • Framing/Composition
  • Bokeh/DOF/ad nauseum
For instance, in my friend John Cornicello's example he started thinking about a photograph with the working distance or camera-to-subject distance. This factor was the first thing he thought of before lifting the camera to his eye. John is a portrait photographer, so we'll have him start with a simple headshot. I believe he started with a distance of 5 feet. From there he decided on a lens that would fill the frame as he desired (headshot, eyes only, 3/4, etc). In this example, he didn't state whether or not the background was a consideration for the photo. Since the background isn't mentioned, it's possible that it's unimportant to the photograph, but let's assume we don't want distracting elements growing out of our subject's head (head in a clean spot). For his example the focal length he chooses would not effect the compression or expansion of the photograph because the camera-to-subject difference does not change. His working distance is the “boss” of this photograph, followed by composition, and then focal length. This order of operations produces a real result that we can see in real life.

The opposite side of the argument changes the order of operations. When I start thinking about a photograph I have a Frame/Composition in mind before I even think about lifting a camera to my eye. I'm a portrait photographer, so I start with a simple headshot: let's say, a bust shot... from just below the crown of the head to mid-chest level. This person is the subject of the photograph, so I've decided the background is unimportant to the photograph (to closely match the previous example). At this point, the frame is decided and we can decide on a focal length. We look at the background and decide what focal length will give us the subject's head in a clean spot. If we choose a wide angle lens, the camera-to-subject distance would be closer than if we choose a telephoto lens. Because we've already decided on a frame and composition, the camera-to-subject distance must change based on what lens we decide on in order to satisfy this requirement. The wide angle lens will push the background away because our camera-to-subject distance requires us to be close in order to satisfy the pre-visualized composition. The telephoto lens will pull the background in because our camera-to-subject distance requires us to be further away in order to satisfy the pre-visualized composition. If the wide angle lens will not allow us to have a headshot with head in a clean spot (our pre-visualized composition), another lens choice must be made; possibly a telephoto lens. The opposite is also true: If the telephoto will not allow us to have a headshot with head in a clean spot another lens choice must be made, possibly a wide lens. (For the exhibit below, any focal length over 80mm would work just fine.) My composition is the “boss” of this photograph, followed by focal length, and then working distance. This order of operations also produces a result that we can see in real life.

In John's example, no compression or expansion is evident regardless of what focal length he choses because the camera-to-subject distance does not change. The first thing he decided on was working distance. This order of operations is valid and produces the results that John has posted elsewhere.

In my example, compression or expansion is clearly evident based on the chosen focal length because the camera-to-subject distance must change based on the composition. The first thing I decided on was my frame and composition. This order of operations is also valid and produces the results that I have posted here.

Because both examples are repeatable and reproducible, it verifies claims on both sides of the fence. The fact that focal length has an influence over expansion and compression is evident in the photos, but can only be witnessed when an experiment is performed in a way that shows it; saying that the phenomenon doesn't exist is ludicrous. Not performing the experiment with the correct values will have an effect on the outcome. This is akin to trying to produce the color "green" when you only have "red" and "blue" to work with; Only "purple" is possible, but we all know that "green" is a color that exists. However, if the experiment calls for "blue" and "yellow" of course you can produce "green", but "purple" cannot be made from this combination.

The above is precisely reason why the focal length / expansion / compression issue exists. Depending on the order of events that we approach making a photograph it can completely change the result that we see in real life. Neither approach is wrong or right; It's simply indicative of the order of operations. In these examples we didn't even include depth of field or other factors that we can include into our photographs. More factors means more potential changes in the order of operations.

Of course, you may feel free to argue all you want, but both experiments are performed here. Please do me a favor and make your arguments intelligible though. :-)

*Please note that some old guys fought over which order of operations to follow before they made us adhere to it. They decided on PEMDAS and sent the other-side-of-the-fence-guys to Mycenae or something.

**Also note that my 6-year-old does her best to stand still for these boring photos, but the bribery of ice cream usually does the trick. She just looks so sad...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

creativeLIVE hangover

It's been over two months since I was with Zack Arias and the Sacred Six at creativeLIVE. It's been a really weird experience for me since then. It really feels like I had the night of my life and I'm trying to pull myself off the bathroom floor the morning afterward.

Part of it is the critique. We call felt at least a little hurt {well, maybe not Mikhail ;-) } after our critiques. If I didn't feel confident in my work then, it should just get better from there, right?

Not For Me.

Now that Zack has moved the bar further up for me, it feels like it's even harder to reach out and try to grab it. Instead of my goals being 5 years away, now they're 15 years away. I've really been struggling with it. It feels like my photos are getting better, and my vision is clearer....but that last one... The Vision.... it's making it worse. Now that some of the fog has been lifted, I'm realizing that I need to rebuild my entire portfolio.

Those that have been watching the rewatch to the class and have been checking my website to see the photos for themselves that Zack and Meg trashed.... They're not there anymore. Those photos are GONE. (And they had to trash them for me because I couldn't do it.) At the wrap party after the 3rd day of class, I was sitting at the dinner table with my Android phone deleting those photos from my site. They needed to be gone. That work may have shown clients what I could do back then, but now... even the short period of two months.... that no longer represents me. The minute that Zack trashed my photos... it no longer represented me. I know I can do better, and Zack helped show me that if I settle... if I let an ounce of energy be wasted... I'll fall short of my goals.

So, for the last two months I've been doing a metric shit-ton of personal work to rebuild and reshape what I'm trying to show the world what I can do. By the July 4th weekend, I was exhausted. I didn't want to sit down and edit the paid work that needed to be done. My mind needed a break from trying to break every old photo out of my life. You know what though? That break was awesome. It allowed me to let my mind go, and wander, and at the end of the weekend I started having new creative concepts that I need to go shoot now. Then it hit me....

All I needed to do was relax and things would be easier?

That might not be entirely true, but relaxing gave me the ability to have creative thoughts again... letting my mind wander gave me 4 new photos that I sketched out into my notebook. Those 4 photos are going to be freaking hard to accomplish the way I want, but it'll be worth it.

I'm still planning on making a book and sending it to Zack and Chase: "Did I take a step forward this year?" I really hope that I have, but considering that most of that book's photos haven't been shot yet, only time will tell. All I know is that I need to impress Zack with my progress, but more importantly, I need to be a good enough photographer that I can feed my family as well as my soul, because to me there's nothing more important than that.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


One thing that drives me crazy is when my work is misinterpreted. Why? Because it means that I failed to communicate what I was really trying to say. I'm not talking about "I like your work" or "I don't like your work".... I'm thinking more along the lines of "That photo is completely inappropriate."


"Yes, because you're married, and you're supposed to shoot only families."

This happens most often from feedback when I shoot boudoir. Not because the photos are beautiful pictures of women, but because I AM the one taking them. If you haven't discovered from my bio photo or that my name is Jeremy... I'm a guy. Somehow the idea that a guy is taking photos of women makes some people uncomfortable. To throw it all out there, I've been accused that I'm cheating on my wife, going to cheat on my wife, or other ridiculous and incredulous statements.

I love my wife, Caitlyn, with all of my heart. She knows that I'm trying to build a business that I can be completely happy with, and she knows that I shoot boudoir. At ANY point, Caitlyn could come with me to a shoot and "assist" me during the shoot. Why? Because I'm not doing anything wrong or against our marriage by shooting boudoir. In fact, I don't see anything wrong with shooting families one day and boudoir the next. I find joy in shooting both genres.

"Okay Jeremy, why do you shoot boudoir then?"

Because women need to see themselves as the beautiful people that really are. We are constantly bombarded by ads and images of what the "ideal woman" should look like. It wasn't until a recent ad campaign by Dove that the American (world?) public started to see that even the Super Models wanted to look like Super Models. They don't really look like the images that they're portrayed to have. Some asshole decided to use photoshop to change the way a model was shaped for whatever God-forsaken reason and now everyone thinks they need to look like Barbie. (Aqua aside:Freakin Ew.) This leaves women feeling imperfect, inadequate, and unattractive.

It's not "perfection" that interests me, or that I find beauty in; It's the differences in us that make us unique, beautiful, and genuine human beings. In today's society. most women believe that since they don't look like that "Super Model" on tv that they fall short of beauty. Frankly, I think that's bullshit, but it's not her fault. She's been educated to think that way through the advertising bombardment that she endures every day.

What we need to do is re-educated women so that they see that they are beautiful, regardless of the misinformation that they receive on a daily basis. I am trying to take a personal stance on this issue. Why? Because I have two daughters and I don't want them to fall prey to this bullshit. They are beautiful, intelligent, and thoughtful human beings and I see no reason that those traits should change; either physically or ideologically. I tell my children every day that I love them, that they are smart, that they are beautiful, and how important it is to be thoughtful of others.
  • When was the last time someone told you that you were intelligent?
  • When was the last time someone told you that you were thoughtful?
  • When was the last time someone told you that you were beautiful?
  • When was the last time someone told you that they loved you?
We can see when others are intelligent when we converse with them. It's a two-way street. We can see when others are thoughtful by how they treat others. Also, a two-way street. Loved? The most obvious two-way street there is. But when it comes to telling someone that they're beautiful, why does it always come with a grain of salt? Why do we doubt it when someone tells us we're beautiful? Why is it so effing hard to believe? We need shown that we're beautiful. (And NO you don't need photos of you in your underwear to feel beautiful.)

So am I trying to run out and shoot this? this? maybe this? (Okay, the last one looks kinda cool and fun.... but I definitely would not use dance beats during my BTS videos...) So why wouldn't I waltz out there and do a Suicide Girl shoot? I dunno. I'm twisted up about it inside. I love Suicide Girls. Think the concept behind them is really cool. They totally thrive on the differences between them. The problem is the execution. If my goal is to aid women in empowering themselves... Is taking photos that resemble softcore porn the way to do that? It falls way short of what I'm trying to do.
  • Beautiful women - Check
  • Beautiful women being themselves - Check
  • Beautiful women making out with other women to get attention - FAIL
  • Beautiful women talked into the scene in the second video at 0:43 - FAIL
And since I've already stated that everyone is beautiful in their own unique and genuine way, the last two are HUGE failures. In fact, researching videos to use on this post definitely had me thinking WTF the whole time. They were just as hard for me to watch as you to watch, I'm sure.

So why are women trying to be super models when super models don't really exist? If they did exist would that make them feel better about themselves? No, of course not. The whole thing is relevant to photography in a big way. We have photographers out there pretending that they're lives are great and all of that because they're trying to emulate Super Photographers. The mythical breed of photographer whose lives have magically fallen into place and their lives are easy. Zack Arias knows this better than anyone...

These mythical Johnny Photographers aren't any more real than the mythical Super models. They all have self-esteem issues and feel that if they pretend to be someone that they're not that they'll be loved. We all think we suck, but we're trying to get better. All of us are different, and it's those differences that need celebrated, but more importantly.... LOVED.

That's my whole point of this rant: I want to celebrate who people are. Women have the freakin right to be beautiful, and sometimes they need to see themselves through someone else's eyes in order to realize it. THATS WHAT I'M DOING! I'm helping people see themselves how they really are. I'm not GWC (Guy With Camera) trying to get into girls' pants and make excuses to see them naked. That's stupid.

Holy crap.... that's a rant if I ever saw/wrote/thought one. I probably shouldn't post this. Meh. We'll see what happens... Jasmine Star Style: Repel/Attract