Photographer without a camera

My beloved Fuji X-T1, which I shoot the majority of my still and video work on, went into a coma in Los Angeles last week and had to be sent off for repair- likely a 6 week ordeal that will cost hundreds. November and December are also the time when I need the camera the most for family shoots, so I’m asking friends to consider helping out by shopping my Etsy site for art. Any sales will go towards getting a new camera/ repairing the old one. I also have my e-book “Capturing the Face” available on Amazon, and for people in the East Valley I have 2 classes running at Tumbleweed in December, Making Manga and GoPro Fundamentals. Thank you in advance to anyone able to help out!


Excerpt #3 from “Capturing The Face- A Guide To Creative Photographic Portraiture”

Capturing the Face cover

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from my new e-book on creative portraiture, “Capturing the Face”.  The book is subdivided into the 10 considerations we need to make when we approach a stylized portrait shoot.  The full 44 page, $2.99 e-book is available for the Kindle here, and if you enjoyed this I encourage you to check out my image transfer workshop video tutorials on Skillshare!

This excerpt is taken from a section covering “Image Capturing Method”:


Each method of capture brings with it expectations and handicaps, a particular vibe that affects the entire image.  Since I like surrealism in my imagery, using less traditional means of image capture adds surrealism without me having to introduce it in post via photoshop.  My favorite camera at the time of this writing (September 2015) is the Fuji Neo Classic Instax Mini, which makes what could be described as a “half Polaroid”- a 2×3 instant film print.   It also has additional controls that allow me to make in-camera double exposures, something that is unique among instant film cameras.  It’s not very sharp and the image is small and physical, so I need to scan it or rephotograph it with my phone if I want to present it online.  

The softness is actually an advantage, as it makes subjects look younger, eliminates unflattering lines, acne etc.  When I photograph people with it, there is absolute delight on set as we wait to see if it was a keeper or trash.  It’s both treasured and disposable.  If a double exposure experiment ends up trash, we can course correct in a matter of minutes.  

Another of my favorite methods of image capture is the scanner, which my subject has to lay on or directly place their face on.  It is somewhat the polar opposite of the instant film in that it reveals every defect of someone scanned with it- every tiny hair, pore, wrinkle- shows up.  Like the instant film cameras, we can see instant results on the computer screen and make course corrections if there are flaws going on.  When we can see how the process is going, both the subject and myself get ideas on how to improve the work while making the work rather than in post, and it’s great. 

I’ve owned many cameras over the decades and some did not really work out for me creatively.  One that stands out is the Diana F, a plastic medium format camera that deliberately introduces light leaks, film winding issues, and other “adorable” defects.   

Another camera that didn’t end up suiting my overall style is a 4×5 Graphlex- a 1940s sports camera made of metal, large and difficult to maneuver.  It used expensive film that took a few minutes to compose, make manual exposure settings, insert film holder, pull dark slide, click shutter, re-insert dark slide… yawn.  Any large camera leads to very stiff, formal compositions since the subject cannot move around much once the composition step is accomplished.  

These cameras didn’t work for me but I have seen amazing stuff out of other people using the Diana F and Graphlex.  The photographers felt a kinship with those cameras, felt their creativity sync with those tools, told themselves they would master these things no matter what.  I wasn’t really into the instant film images until I told myself “I want to make amazing work with this camera”, researched what other artists had done, and pushed myself to take it seriously.  


Heat Transfer on Tile from Mexico City

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In the course of making some online tutorials about image transfer, I used shots from Mexico City that I wouldn’t exactly put alongside my creative portrait work; in this case, an iPhone shot of a statue.  This was printed on heat transfer paper and transferred onto a travertine stone tile.  What’s fun about using these non-portfolio images in a creative way is that it gives me some neat wall art for my house that reminds us of our adventures, truly unique vacation memorabilia.  I have a video tutorial of this and other transfer techniques up on Skillshare– the great creative learning site that taught me typography, poster design, and how to use After Effects and Illustrator among many things.

Excerpt #2 from “Capturing The Face- A Guide To Creative Photographic Portraiture”

Capturing the Face coverOver the next few weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from my new e-book on creative portraiture, “Capturing the Face”.  The book is subdivided into the 10 considerations we need to make when we approach a stylized portrait shoot.  The full 44 page, $2.99 e-book is available for the Kindle here, and if you enjoyed this I encourage you to check out my image transfer workshop video tutorials on Skillshare!

This particular excerpt is a discussion of “Styling”:


Styling was one of the most difficult things for me to get down in my own portrait photography, because I don’t know the names of particular fashions or hairstyles, and google image searches are a real crapshoot if you don’t know specific names.  I will work with stylists and send them inspirational imagery but that’s no guarantee that they know how to achieve the particular look, or if the model we are using has the right hair length/ size for whatever is available.  

The styling crew (hair, makeup and wardrobe) are the people who get the least out of any photos you take, so this is likely where some money is going to be spent.  Because I like a particular amount of production in my images, a hairstylist is top priority for a shoot- people generally cannot do their own hair as well as an actual stylist can, who has 360 degree access to the subject’s head. 

Makeup is something most men do not need for creative portraiture, and the majority of women I’ve worked with can do what I refer to as “going out on a date” makeup- stuff that looks great in real life but doesn’t communicate well in a photo.  An actual makeup artist can do film/ photographic makeup with astronomically expensive supplies and it’ll actually show up in the images.  Makeup artists are generally more costly than hair stylists, and if you have both hair and makeup on set, you’re easily adding an extra hour or two to the shoot time.  It’s a frustrating scenario to have a studio and models booked for 4 hours and hair and makeup eats up the majority of that time while the photographer stands around.

Beyond makeup is fx- bodypaint, gore, fake scars, adding jewelry, making people look frozen or cartoony.  The more specific the look, the more it covers, the longer it takes to do.  The bodypaint shoots I’ve done have ranged from 1 hour (a chaotic mess which still looked cool) to 6 hours (elaborate designs involving words).  Each time I work with an fx artist, I leave thinking it was worth it, but the process of getting it done is quite tiresome for all involved.

I don’t have too many words for wardrobe and prop styling- but one can see how budgets could spiral based on the styling alone.  It’s said that setting a film as a period piece makes the cost skyrocket in such a way that Hollywood does its best to avoid them.  If you do choose to create something that is period specific and requires styling, then there should be a lot of extra research to make sure everything fits the way it is supposed to.  A few years ago I came across a fashion shoot based on the D-Day, with a bikini model among  a platoon of soldiers who were all holding modern weapons but dressed in 1940s GI outfits.   

There was a time when my photoshoots were really over complicated.  Lots of patterns and textures and accessories and unique styling, and at the end of all that effort, I maybe got one portfolio piece out of it.  

The problems with a “busy” look are:

1. it’s expensive to get everything right and looking good, and if you start cutting corners (like getting stuff from the Halloween store for wardrobe), the whole scenario collapses like a house of cards.

2. the less versatile the look, the fewer outlets the final image has- unusable as gallery images, unusable as stock or mixed media pieces or anything really.

3. Busy compositions are overall less appealing than simplicity.  Think of “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles vs. “Master of Puppets” by Metallica.  What song can you actually hum?  Or to put it another way:  who wants to live in a house full of junk?

This takes me to shooting things very cleanly in an almost “generic” sense.  It’s a lesson I learned from Richard Avedon, Man Ray, and other photographic heroes with a strong sense of design, and movies like Drive or Pacific Rim or Jaws.  Start simple, and build it up, rather than get super complex and have it fall apart like a house of cards.

Excerpt #1 from “Capturing The Face- A Guide To Creative Photographic Portraiture”

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from my new e-book on creative portraiture, “Capturing the Face”.  The book is subdivided into the 10 considerations we need to make when we approach a stylized portrait shoot.  The full 44 page, $2.99 e-book is available for the Kindle here, and if you enjoyed this I encourage you to check out my image transfer workshop video tutorials on Skillshare!

This particular excerpt is a discussion of “What Makes Artistic Portraits So Artsy?”:


What makes some photography “art” and other photography “not art”?  

Is it mere semantics- “It’s art because I say it’s art”?

Do art photos express a personal point of view unique to the photographer?

Do art photos have no practical commercial, historical, scientific or otherwise utilitarian use and by default become art?

Do art photos start as art or can they be elevated to the level of art only within a certain context?  Say, a family snapshot from 1977 that gets scanned, enlarged and printed in 2015, displayed on a gallery wall or with a few postproduction filters added?

Or are art photos generated with intentional use of the elements of art, principles of design, and with a deep understanding of historical art traditions and composition?

Is the art product solely within a printed physical copy of an image?

These are the kinds of questions bandied about in forums, college classrooms, and internal monologues of the art photographer.  Rarely is there consensus in any definitive answer, because every venue or gatekeeper that typically provides some guide as to what is art and what isn’t changes their minds as to what gets included and what gets left out.  The 1977 snapshot example would not have bypassed a gatekeeper in its own era, but time and technology have changed the gatekeeper’s POV.  It’s only been recently in history- basically the last few years- where gatekeepers are starting to get sidelined, and the online tribal camps figured out how to curate their own galleries, magazines, YouTube shows, with zero overhead costs or investors to answer to.  It’s only been the last few years that artisans could sell to a wide audience through Etsy, eBay, Red Bubble, and other online shops with no juried gatekeepers.  

We’ll talk about reaching an audience and dealing with the gatekeepers in a later chapter.  For now, let’s consider those earlier questions about art photography.

A photo that at one point may not have been about something could adopt meaning and now be about something.  Or something other than its original intent;  for example, party photos of the disco era are now historical artifacts.

We now no longer need a printed physical version of something to enjoy it fully, have it communicate its meaning to us.  Many people consider online experiences as real as real world experiences.

Commercial/ historical/ scientific/ utilitarian imagery is considered a creative art as much as the purely “self expression”-type of imagery and the purely “formalist”-style of images focusing on elements of art and composition, like shape/ color/ value etc.  

For the purposes of this book, I’ll say:

1. The Artistic Portrait Photographer is someone who generally takes pictures for themselves.  They would take photos even if they weren’t paid, though as with all things people like to get paid for what they do.  Why they like to take photos is irrelevant- most of them would like to get better at what they do, and possible receive some recognition in some form for their creations. 

2. The Artistic Portrait Photographer uses style and craft to communicate an intended feeling about the subject.  The subject may be loved, or distrusted, or admired, or any number of other emotions, and the photographer’s intent should be recognized by the viewer.  

3. The Artistic Portrait Photographer needs to have some recognizable stylistic traits that continue over some undefined period of time- not every photo needs to look the same, but there needs to be evidence of choices being made.

4. Artistic Portraits cross general photographic genres, from fashion to documentary and travel to nudes to family to candid street images. 

One of my favorite artistic portraiture photographers is Richard Avedon.  Avedon did commercial work, fashion work, shot the Vietnam War, created a series about the characters of American West, and generally shot hundreds of major cultural figures including presidents.  His most recognizable work involves pure white backgrounds and “the thing itself” as he presented people- stark, in some state of emotion due to the interaction between the photographer and subject.  It’s a pure, minimal aesthetic- I remember, as a snot-nosed 20-something, initially finding the work dull, but as years went on I recognized the masterfulness of it.  For my money, Avedon is untouchable; yet my Photo History professor portrayed him as a high-falutin’ NYC guy what come to pick on the yokels in his American West series.  That professor laid out the notion that Avedon’s assistants did most of the work, and that the shots chosen reflected some East Coast stereotypical viewpoint.  Does it matter if assistants do a lot of the heavy lifting?  Well, consider how films and other major productions are created- there’s a lot of delegation that doesn’t water down artistic intent.  

 A less recognized genius of the Artistic Portrait is Ralph Eugene Meatyard.  Meatyard was an optician with an interest in Zen philosophy and used his family members to illustrate ideas that had visual tricks and wordplay in the titles to evoke a photographic equivalent of Zen meditation.  In lesser hands, the blurs, masks, and vibrating images would come across as gimmicks, but Meatyard had an internalized purpose and vision.  The struggle to create good art is a struggle to understand ourselves.

Capturing the Face cover