Tuesday, November 25, 2014

'Running The Photo Asylum' Will Soon Be Moving!

Just a head's up. Lots of changes on the horizon at The Photo Asylum. Most notably, the whole kit-and-kaboodle is now being hosted by Squarespace. But more on that soon.

A major part of the reorganization of my web sites is the migration of this blog to the new location! It will soon become 'The Padded Cell', but have all the same news and advice as before, only with much much more!

Watch for the new blog in the coming weeks. Days if I can muster the energy to get the work done!

See you there...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wow! The Lady In Red! You're Perfect! Or...Are You?

 "Oh, Cordelia Brown, what make your head so red?" ~ Harry Belafonte

Like many photographers, my heart sometimes skips a beat when I see an attractive ginger. Man or woman, a handsome, pretty or even interesting-looking person sporting a shock of red hair is fairly unique, at least when it comes to our portfolios.

It's tempting to approach someone right off the bat when we see the hair. If you have any skill at all as a shooter, you figure it's a can't miss. A styling element that will automatically make your image jump off the page.

And maybe you'll be right.

Still, even those of us who are experienced at critically looking at people of every conceivable color, shape, and size (to the point of being our own casting agents) can be fooled by a single strong visual or wardrobe element, and it's often hard to separate the feature that may wow you in person from the way someone will actually appear modeling in a photo.

I know because it's happened. And when it does, and that special someone you swore was perfect when you met them just doesn't look right on your monitor screen, you can only shake your head and wonder what went wrong...

It's a question of learning to really look at a person critically and differentiating between street attractiveness, which many people have (regardless of how photogenic they are), and strong visual features that will come across in a wonderful way when you throw some light on them and the shutter clicks.

Ad photo for kromamakeup.com. Model: Katie. Makeup by Lee Tillett.
Red hair and beautiful face provided by nature.
So, what is one to do? Obviously, there is never a guarantee that someone you meet in person is going to look amazing or be great as a model at a photo shoot. But, you can put the odds more in your favor before you approach people, and that's what my advice here is all about.

Knowing that a person's hair frames their face, it also becomes clear that beautiful hair or a great cut, or in this case hair color can mask subtle or sometimes even major flaws in that face. So, just as casting agents and photographers often want to see potential models with little or no makeup and their hair pulled back away from their face (something that's not at all very practical when you meet someone on the street), I always try to imagine what someone I'm considering casting would look like with a different color hair.

Now, maybe this sounds obvious. Maybe it sounds odd. No matter. It works for me, and by works, I mean it helps me sift through folks that might have really nice or cool or red hair, but otherwise are nothing special when it comes to sticking them in front of the camera. And in my case, one nice feature is usually not enough for me to get involved with them as potential models.

Obviously, you're free to try to style and pose and shoot whomever you want for whatever reason you want. My point is, women with red hair or more importantly, those who change their hair color or appearance to get noticed sometimes get your attention using a bit of smoke and mirrors and for the wrong reasons.

In my experience, it always pays to take a moment and try to imagine someone without the feature that attracted you to them in the first place, and figure out if all the other stuff is strong as well.

You'd be surprised how often it's not...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kareen Rashelle's Fairy Tale Photo Shoot BTS Video Teaser From 'Photo Asylum Moving Pictures'

Well, the toothpaste is out of the tube...

Or, perhaps a more fairy tale analogy would be the Genie is out of the bottle. Yeah, I like that better, because what I've launched and the direction it appears to be taking me makes me feel as if there is magic in the air. And for a creative artist, that's one of the best feelings you can have.

I'm pleased to announce that the teaser for my upcoming behind-the-scenes video of Kareen Rashelle's Fairy Tale Photo Shoot is finally in the can. And no, that's doesn't refer to the toilet, but rather an old movie expression from way back when referring to finished films being placed in metal canisters and shipped to theaters to be shown to audiences.

In this case, the video, the first non-animation project I've directed and released through Photo Asylum Moving Pictures, will flow throughout the internet to reach its viewers, but the dynamic is the same.

Photo Asylum Moving Pictures Teaser
Kareen Rashelle's Fairy Tale Photo Shoot BTS Video

The ninety seconds that lauds me finally hanging out my video shingle, this miniscule World Premiere that announces my new company and an accompanying slew of new services for creating photographic and fashion motion content, contains only one shot of actual moving footage, a handful of stylized (degraded black & white) still frames, and a couple of visual and audio fx to playfully create an atmosphere that (hopefully) makes you anticipate and want to see the full bts video when it is finally released later this summer.

And that is exactly what a teaser is supposed to do. 

The feature-length film equivalent is the trailer: a short "mini movie" that ranges from the length of a television commercial to something up to several minutes and serves as a preview or coming attraction in a movie theater or on a dvd.

On the surface, it may seem like a bit of smoke and mirrors in the sense that it maintains a level of viewer interest in a motion project (for marketing purposes) without me really having to do much heavy-duty visual or audio editing. 

In that respect, it buys me time.

But don't be fooled by this false simplicity. The significance here is that the workflow, from start to finish, of a short teaser compared to a fully completed video, is exactly the same. And in this case, the learning curve and software choices to be made organizing and editing all the bits that go into what you eventually see here are also identical.

And so to me it is a big deal. I didn't just arbitrarily yank one take of a scene out of a pile of motion footage. I didn't just throw a dart at a board to help me decide how to create the audio soundtrack to put with the visuals. And I certainly didn't just string a bunch of random words together to pass along the particulars of what this film is about and when it will be available.

Like most art, and certainly most videos, much thought went into it, and there was a great deal of trial and error. Seeing (and hearing) what works and what doesn't. Altering the looks and lengths of scenes and sounds, and figuring out if they go together or not. Creating a pace and emotion to the entire piece that fits the time limitations, yet still gets across what both I and Kareen need to register with the viewer.

Speaking of Kareen, I want to be sure to get my credits, props, and thank yous in. One important aspect of the teaser is to give a glimpse at the variety of costume looks and locations she planned and used with model Lisa Fuhr to complete her Fairy Tale Series. That will suffice for now. Interviews and explanations of the nuts and bolts of the shoot come later. As do the obligatory humorous bloopers. Kareen was great in pausing her own work to allow me to get all the shots and multiple takes needed to complete mine.

A tip of the cap also to Lisa, who thankfully, knows how to play to my camera in both a deadpan as well as a comedic fashion, something I can assure you, a director does not take for granted.

And let's not forget Dennis Panzik, a pleasant last-minute surprise addition to the crew who not only was a big help with styling and makeup, but ended up serving as an assistant to both me and Kareen. Oh, and he can juggle as well, which many of you will find out soon enough.

Future motion projects will be featured on my Vimeo page, my YouTube page, and of course the video page on my website www.stevenpaulhlavac.com.
And as I've said before, and will undoubtedly say again, feel free to subscribe and follow me on my video sites, and please leave comments or ask any questions that come to mind...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

'Photo Asylum Moving Pictures' - Audio Track Promo

As I prepare to publish the teaser this Friday for my current motion project (a behind-the-scenes video of photo artist Kareen Rashelle's Fairy Tale Series Photo Shoot), I wanted to take a moment to address a crucial aspect of filmmaking that often gets overlooked: the audio element.

Below is a video I currently have on my Vimeo page. It's the teaser mentioned above, but the actual footage is intentionally missing and replaced with narrative text to allow the viewer (listener?) to actively concentrate on the audio soundtrack, and better understand it role in the process.

Photo Asylum Moving Pictures Audio Promo
Kareen Rashelle's Fairy Tale Photo Shoot BTS Video

In this instance, I used SONY Acid Music software and some wonderful loop collection music clips to build a melodic, yet haunting aural picture that emphasizes the emotion and tension of the teaser footage, and hopefully makes you anticipate and want to watch the actual video when it comes out.

I'll go into much more detail in an upcoming blog post of how I choose, create, and edit not only the music, but also the dialogue (there will be interviews in the behind-the-scenes video), as well as ambient sound and additional noises and efx I choose to include.

The reasoning, both of this promo as well as future posts dealing with the subject, is to make clear my skills with audio, and showcase my ability to include that as a valuable service provided by 'Photo Asylum Moving Pictures'.

In an interesting twist, I think of this audio promo as a sort of teaser to the teaser that will follow in a few days.

BTW, the idea of revealing a project piecemeal (the full video coming this summer) is one that is currently used on nearly all levels of commercial art, be it movies, videos, music, or books. It is all part of marketing my creative work to the public, social media, and hopefully clients and potential clients.

As always, I invite you to subscribe and follow me on my video sites, and feel free to make comments or ask any questions that come to mind...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

'Photo Asylum Moving Pictures' - An Idea Whose Time Has Finally Come (Part 1).

It's been roughly five years since the first DSLRs featuring video recording capability appeared on the consumer market. At that watershed moment, high quality motion imaging finally became not only affordable, but conveniently contained within the same camera package that photographers were already familiar and comfortable with.

Since then, many, if not most, still shooters have had to ponder and often struggle with the decision to begin acquiring and learning about video gear and software, film planning, production and post-production, and most importantly, packaging and marketing a finished quality product in order to offer these new services on the professional level.

I can tell you firsthand, it is not always a painless and intuitive process. Even many years of experience using traditional still cameras and lighting gear does not always immediately translate into the ability to shoot and produce great videos.

Then consider that the market is already saturated with established video production companies and freelance filmmakers that have spent a lifetime honing their craft, not to mention an army of amateurs with their camcorders and iPhones who think they can make a great video of anything they point these devices at.

You can quickly see that the very notion of joining this workforce in a competitive way can be...shall we say...daunting, if not downright overwhelming and intimidating.

And so, my coming into the fold and finally including myself in the big, bad world of motion pictures was not an easy decision to make.

Not easy at all...

This is the new "signature logo" for Photo Asylum Moving
Pictures. It appears at the beginning of each video to  identify
my company, sometimes with sound, sometimes without.
More on the striking imagery in a future blog post.

My personal transition to including motion in my photographic repertoire was fueled by three major developments.

The first was the cost of equipment, and how the price of what is needed to create quality film footage has dropped dramatically in a very short time. And while I quickly learned that video production is indeed a money pit if you insist on having every little piece of professional gear that's available to help you, most of the basics to get you started are but a fraction of the price they used to be only five or more years ago. The biggest savings, of course, is the simple fact that you can use all of your existing DSLR lenses and bodies to shoot.

Secondly, post-production and video editing software was created that works wonderfully on an average PC or Mac system, and much of it was incorporated into existing programs that most still photographers already owned or had access to.

Adobe has led the way by not only adding video editing capabilities into some of its Photoshop titles, but fine-tuned Premiere Pro to give it a very similar interface to PS, adding powerful, but simple-to-use features to make it a breeze to create a professional-looking product. As my Creative Cloud membership already gave me access to all of these amazing tools, it was a no-brainer to finally start using them.

Finally, as much as I try to shun negativity in this business, I couldn't help but notice that there is a sea of mediocrity out there when it comes to video and filmmaking. My years of competitive creativity and strong visual storytelling made it obvious to me that there is a lot of bad work out there, and at some point I knew I could do better, and had to start trying.

So that's it in a nutshell. A new and exciting chapter in my artistic life and the evolution of The Photo Asylum. Be a witness as I (hopefully) take on more and more challenging and edgy motion projects through my Vimeo page, my YouTube page, and of course the video page on my website www.stevenpaulhlavac.com.

There's much more to the story of my start in professional filmmaking, but I think this is enough for now. Look for many more details in a follow-up post.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

TBT - Fashion Photographer Patrick Demachelier 1993

"Throwback Thursday" (or TBT as the cool cats call it) seems to have caught on in a pretty good way on most social media. Each Thursday, you post an image from the past, hopefully one that holds meaning to you or your audience. The idea appears harmless enough, and considering how many older images I have that I think are interesting or at least fun, I've decided to incorporate it into my blog posts when I can.

The reasons should be obvious. Lord knows I need to start spending more time here sharing topics and items that are photo-related, and it seems to me these certainly qualify. Also, I'll most always have a good story to go with the pic, usually something describing the odd series of events or happenstance that led to the photo.

Today's will be brief, however, as this is my first one, and I am quickly running out of Thursday daylight!

You may or may not know it (I've certainly said it enough times), but for me, shooting celebs and club life on South Beach back in the 1990's was no big deal. Nothing artistic, simply being in a certain place at a certain time with a camera that had a dependable flash. In fact, a monkey with a camera could...oh all right, all right, I digress...

Yes, it was (and still is) fun meeting well-known people from various walks of life, especially the entertainment business, but I rarely get excited about the idea of rubbing elbows with famous folks. Especially if I can only take grab shots, and not a real creative portrait of them.

Still, there are exceptions. Which brings me to a particular run-in back in 1993 with arguably the number one fashion photographer in the world at the time, Patrick Demarchelier.
Fashion photographer extraordinaire Patrick Demarchelier. Sinatra Bar, Miami Beach, 1993.
It was early evening, and I was mulling about outside of the Sinatra Bar on South Beach. I cannot for the life of me remember anything about the place, other than I had to photograph someone there. I suppose you can dig on Google if you'd like to discover the history of the joint, but I'm pretty sure it was brief.

Out of the blue, walking up the street comes Monsieur Demarchelier.  Oddly enough, he was alone, although I've learned from experience that's not really unusual for people famous in their profession, but outside of the pop culture mainstream. Now this was someone whose work and career I not only admired, but aspired to myself as a fashion shooter.

You better believe I was excited...

As he strolled up to where I was standing, I was caught off-guard by how unassuming and humble he was. He almost seemed clueless about what was going on nearby and if he should even check it out. As if he was out for a walk and had nothing better to do.

Our conversation was brief, and no, did not involve me acting like a fan or much about photography at all, for that matter. I greeted him (by name, of course) and wouldn't you know it, he seemed genuinely surprised I even knew who he was. Perfect. A true gentleman.

We talked about how nice the evening was, maybe a bit about how great the Miami light can be that time of year, this and that, and eventually how lame the club seemed. If I recall, he even decided not to go in. I can't say I had the same luxury. Anyway, a quick snap of him looking debonaire, and we both went our separate ways.

And so, this photo will always remind me of my quick brush with true greatness in the very field I had chosen for myself.

BTW, Patrick's amazing work is available online: www.demarchelier.net

Monday, September 23, 2013

Photo Asylum 101: Five Types Of Weather. If You Don't Like The Shooting Conditions In Florida, Just Wait A Few Minutes...

"If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes..."  

~Mark Twain


Obviously, my post title today playfully paraphrases the famous humorist, as I believe his quote most definitely applies to the Sunshine State as well.

I have never believed that there is a single perfect type of weather for outdoor photography. That's a myth that tends to be passed around more by beginners and hobbyists than professionals. I love all kinds of weather, have shot in all kinds of weather, and have learned that all kinds of weather have their advantages and challenges, and all can be "perfect" for what I shoot most: fashion and portrait.

From an artistic standpoint, I break down the weather for my outdoor shoots into five basic types:
full sun - partly cloudy - partly sunny - overcast - rain
Yeah, I know, it doesn't take a genius to figure this out. In fact, I seriously doubt I'm telling you anything you do not already know. Still, sometimes one needs to explain useful things by first being a master of the obvious. I like starting points that everyone can relate to.

My real message is this: to better your craft, you need to try to understand how photographic elements such as light, shadows, contrast, brightness range, color, tonality, and detail are determined and affected by the various types of weather.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two major factors when dealing with the weather. One is in the previsualization, or planning stage of a shoot. I have many different photo ideas that are particularly suited to specific types of weather and outdoor lighting. Even when I use a flash on location, I still consider the general scene illumination from the sun and sky when I figure out how to set up a shot.

The second factor, and this is probably a much more needed skill for a shooter, is to understand how to change set ups and technique at the drop of a hat when weather conditions are different or change quickly from what you had originally planned. You shouldn't just have a Plan B, but also a C, D, and E, depending on what you encounter and how it evolves.

Not only can you learn to use this to your advantage when you plan the looks and style of your shots, often pairing image ideas to the existing weather conditions on location, but more importantly, you eventually realize you can adapt to weather that is volatile and quickly changing without having a nervous breakdown on the set.  Those of you (like me) who shoot outside in Florida know exactly what I mean.

This confidence of handling whatever big momma nature throws at you becomes much more important if your goal is to shoot commercial work, where budget or time constraints often mean scheduling a reshoot is not an option.

Don't be fooled by those who only define professional based on the style or quality of someone's work. Sometimes, especially in the eyes of a client, the only factor that makes someone "professional" is that they come through with the goods: they deliver a promised product on time without making excuses.

My mantra has always been this: the more bad habits and mistakes you can remove from your shooting, the higher the quality of your work will be. Knowing how to recognize and work in various types of weather almost automatically improves your shooting. It will certainly make you more professional and reliable.

What follows is a mix of images, some of which I planned and waited for a specific type of sky and light, some of which I simply looked at what I was getting at the time, and set up and shot accordingly.

full sun
I actually don't encounter this too often in my neck of the woods. I'm a cloud guy at heart, and very thankful that Florida usually offers a dazzling array of fluffy white in all shapes, sizes, and colors, especially in the summer. Still, from time to time, whoops...there it is. Nothing but clear blue sky. So, I use it, and by that I mean I try to darken my skies a bit to give them a decent level of color saturation. This may mean underexposing a tad, or shooting multiple exposures to do an HDR effect, or burning the image in post. For me, plain blue skies are bad enough, but plain white skies are far worse.

Unless you live in an area with a lot of air pollution, you will always get bright directional light with stark shadows. This graphic style can be used to great effect, with shadow play pretty much determined by the time of day and the angle of the sun.

Plain, cloudless skies may seem boring, but sometimes they add to a scene. In this shot, I intentionally centered the horizon against conventional wisdom to create an almost mirror effect between the sky and the water. The SeaRey aircraft breaks up the symmetry nicely. it also hints at the stunning view a pilot must get flying around on a clear day. Photo for Lake & Sumter Style Magazine.
partly cloudy
Partly cloudy is what most of us will get a lot of the time, depending of course, on the time of year and the time of day. In Florida, I can often do a 360° and find different cloud coverage in different parts of the sky. It's usually not too hard to find a patch of blue that is mostly sunny. Partly cloudy skies have a normal or average feel to them for obvious reasons: not as empty as cloudless, not nearly as exciting as dramatic storm clouds.

I like partly cloudy skies when I'm shooting lifestyle or traditional environmental/outdoor portraits where I don't want the sky to distract too much from the subject in the shot. As you can see from these examples, sometimes pleasant is just right.

Sometimes it's good to be lucky, especially if reshooting is a pain. For this story on Central Florida cowboys, I spent most of the afternoon riding around on a jeep with no real game plan, just taking spontaneous shots of life on a working ranch. Both I and magazine Creative Director Steve Codraro were thrilled that at the end of the day, I captured this "Marlboro Man" portrait of cowboy Coy Mueller that ended up as a cover. Nearly any kind of sky would have sufficed, but I really preferred a late afternoon sun with just a hint of clouds in the background. For once, nature cooperated. Location: Oxford, Florida.

Another good example of the photo gods smiling on me. This cover shot for Lake & Sumter Style Magazine was done far enough ahead of my deadline that I could have reshot if needed. I treated it as a full-blown fashion shoot and I had the luxury of including a rain date if the weather/lighting wasn't right. Fortunately, it was. Everything was exactly as I had visualized it when I first planned the shot. A few small wisps of colorful clouds was all I wanted to break up the lazy sky. A ton of large, highly dramatic, ginormous storm clouds in the background would have distracted visually from our beautiful model.  Model: Gloriann Brogden. Hair: Ryan Bogard. MUA: Kristin Moulton. Creative Director: Steve Codraro. Location: Mount Dora, Florida.
partly sunny
Partly sunny, or mostly cloudy (if you like to play with semantics) is also very typical in Florida in the summer. In my book, that doesn't mean there is no direct sunlight or brightness in the sky, it simply means there are a lot of clouds out there. And depending on the wind, they might be moving all over the place, including covering all or part of the sun, just not for very long. So a lot of times this becomes a game. I meter often, and prepare to change my camera settings to match the light. I'm speaking, of course, about shooting on manual, which I almost always do. If you use a priority mode, your life may be a bit easier.

Still, quickness has its virtues (as does patience) to get the shot to look the way you want or planned. I tend to be stubborn that way. If I picture specular light in my mind, I want direct illumination. If I'm thinking diffused, I'll wait for the light to get softer. Hopefully, we all find a way of working that suits our style and partly sunny skies has a little something for everyone.

Partly sunny mean a lot of clouds, which are often unpredictable. As the sun peeks in and out, your exposure changes, and that can be a challenge. Frequent metering is a must. Here I simply go with the flow, shooting model Robert Pate in business attire using the emerging sun as a giant key light. I take advantage of the multiple clouds and add them as elements in the window reflection. Fashion test. Location: downtown Orlando.

Overcast can mean a lot of things. Again, semantics. What I mean are flat gray cloudy skies that remove the blue sky and direct sunlight from the equation. This is not the same as a white sky caused by overexposing the scene on a bright, sunny day. On overcast days, your subjects will be bathed in a beautiful soft light, contrast will also be soft, colors can actually be vivid, and most importantly, image details will be at a maximum, as the brightness range will be compressed.

Where I live, you cannot depend on this type of sky. Some days it is just there. With that in mind, I always have a plan or idea to setup and shoot when I know there will be no hard shadows. Often it doesn't matter, but there are times when that style is much more emotional, melancholy, or even romantic. I may use very weather-specific wardrobe or props to take advantage of the low contrast and increase in image detail.

Completely overcast skies make it a whole new ball game. Think of the sky as a huge soft box overhead adding a massive diffused light to your scene. That can be amazing if it's what you want. Now, I was going to shoot this idea no matter what the weather, as it was our only chance to work with a monstrous Chinese dragon, but when I realized there would be no direct sun, I decided on a colder and more moody vibe to the photo. The low shooting angle gave it scale, and the soft shadows meant the composition and muted colors would dominate the image. Fashion test. Model: Lindsey Palmer, Elite Atlanta. Hair: Lori Jurgensen. MUA: Sophie Loock. Location: Splendid China, Florida.
I'm going to lump rain and heavy dramatic clouds together as they are often both there at the same time. As many of you have discovered, it only takes the blink of an eye to go from a majestic backdrop for your scene to a torrential downpour that threatens to ruin everything, including expensive equipment.

I won't address actually shooting in heavy rain, as up to this point in my career, I can't really remember ever doing that. For anything that involves a lot of time and work on styling, hair, and makeup, when the rains come, I call timeout and we wait. Or move indoors to shoot. Or reschedule. 

Don't get me wrong. I love the rain. As a person. Love rainy days, especially when I lived by the ocean. Love being out in the rain. It just doesn't seem to mix with my photography, though. Maybe as I get further into filmmaking, I'll decide to shoot rain scenes, you know, for the drama and emotion. Until then...

Still, a few drops never killed anyone, and many times (again depending on the wind) a light sprinkle will come and go as you shoot. And come and go. And...well, you get the idea. 

If you find yourself in these kinds of conditions and situations, you should really develop a sort of fire drill that gets your crew (and model and wardrobe) in and out of the moisture as quickly as possible. You also should have a game plan if you decide you want to work in a light rain, making sure everyone knows how to keep the gear and talent as dry as possible. Time is money, and wasted time is a photographer's enemy. A little forethought and talking to those working with you on a shoot ahead of time goes a long way. It may make the difference between a complete washout (pun intended) where nothing is accomplished, or ultimately being productive.

Don't be fooled by the glint of sunshine sneaking through in this behind-the-scenes photo. This late afternoon in Central Florida was almost completely cloudy. So, not only were we running out of daylight, but guess what? It started raining as we tried to work! A photographer's nightmare. Harpist Nici Haerter was not only extremely professional, but actually refused to take her expensive, beautifully carved wooden instrument out of the light rain because she knew we needed to get the shot! As you can see, she decided to cover it with a towel until I was ready to shoot. Photo for Pulse Magazine. Hair: Ryan Bogard. Location: Eustis, Florida.
So, you see what I did? I started off with a handful of mundane comments you all figured you knew all about. Then, as I added details and situations and all kinds of good stuff you need to consider to create really strong photos, hopefully I made you realize things are often not as simply as they seem, and circumstances can change in an instant. You need to learn to be ready, and adapt.

Trust me, all it takes is screwing up even one commercial or personal shoot because of a weather condition you didn't even consider, and you'll find you'll start taking something the average person takes for granted much more seriously. I hope I helped...