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Interview with glamour photographer James DiGiorgio
Glamour and erotic photographer James DiGiorgio, know as JimmyD to PhotoCamel members, is a jack-of-all-trades in the erotic photography business. He has worked as a director, producer, writer, videographer, editor, and actor. But what he's best known for is his photography, which, thanks to his signature blending of the artful and overtly erotic, places him on a level that few other photographers manage to attain.
Recently James sat down with PhotoCamel to discuss his work, the business, and his goals for the future.
PhotoCamel: Jimmy, how did you get into photography?
DiGiorgio: For my tweflth birthday, my Dad gave me a camera--a 35mm SLR, a Yashica Penta J. So blame him! This is all his doing. I began shooting all kinds of stuff.
When I was 12 or 13, I shot hundreds of images of the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Some of my images later became part of a gallery tour in Europe. After that, I was hooked.
PhotoCamel: Can you talk some about the training you received? What were the most valuable lessons you learned on the way up?
DiGiorgio: They didn't have photography classes in either the junior high or the high school I attended, but they did have graphic art classes. I took every grahic art class I could. Although this included things like silkscreen, etchings and other print-making techniques, they had a darkroom and I soon was able to learn darkroom techniques and had a place to develop and enlarge my photographs.
My first try at college brought this born-and-bred New Jersey boy to Vincennes, Indiana (Vincennes University), where I majored in Graphic Arts. Much later, after spending four years in the military and hooking up with my first wife, an actress, I returned to school and majored in Film and Television production.
While doing this, I decided I'd try making a few bucks shooting actors and actresses for their headshots and portfolios. My wife, being an actress, was able to provide a lot of contacts to those needing this work. Before long, I had converted my garage into a small studio, and another small building on our property was turned into a darkroom.
For years, I shot hundreds of Hollywood hopefuls and processed the work myself--black and white. It was during this time, working with actors, that I realized two things. First, great model photography is all about lighting and rapport with the subject. Second, if any of the photographs I shoot manage to garner actual work for the subject, many, many referrals would come my way.
Money talks louder than art, I guess. Photography and motion picture capture has been a big part of my career. For over a decade, I worked for a large aerospace corporation, shooting and cutting all their marketing films and tapes and providing photographic suport. I spent a lot of time hanging out the window of a Cessna while shooting other air vehicles in flight, mostly military.
PhotoCamel: Judging from some of your work, you seem to be a closet fine art photographer. How do you attempt to take your erotic work into the realm of the more classy?
DiGiorgio: First off, when I'm shooting porn stars, they aren't porn stars when they're in front of my camera and I tell them as much. I tell them they're models and I don't want to see any typical porn poses unless I ask for them. You wouldn't believe the difference in their demeanors after I tell them that.
Next, it's all about the lighting, assuming a hair and makeup artist was employed. In that case, the next level of importance is the work those people bring to bear on the images. Glamour, at least today's glamour, usually requires a lighting approach that uses a lot of edge-lighting or highlights to enhance the fantasy and sexual allure of the model, and I try to do a good job of this.
I know my images are repetitive in terms of their lighting and posing approaches, but that's what the people who write the checks want. As for something closer to fine art, ocassionally, when there's time, I'll ask the model if she wants to try some other stuff, and that's where I attempt to add a fine art sense to the images. My clients usually never see these images. I'd probably shoot more of the art nude type of stuff but I can't figure out how to make any money with that.
PhotoCamel: Where do you find your models? Are you sessions always a result of your work in the movie industry?
DiGiorgio: For the most part, most of the models I shoot are employed on movie sets, both adult and others, and I'm there to capture glamour images that will be used in the marketing and product artwork. Ocassionally, I'll meet a model and arrange a TFCD (time for compact disk) session, but I don't do that too often.
PhotoCamel: About models: How do you make them unwind in your presence?
DiGiorgio: That's a tough one because individual models require different approaches. It's important to learn how to "read" models in order to develop a good strategy to make them putty in your hands. If only one, single approach could be employed, across the board, it would be so easy.
I guess the first thing a shooter should always remember is that it's lonely for that model under those lights, almost regardless of her level of experience. She knows everything is focused on her and that can be a rather insecure feeling for her.
I'm constantly communicating with the models while they're in front of the camera. I don't just give direction, I ask questions and try to make them feel truly special. I never want models to feel like pieces of beautiful meat, stripping down to their birthday suits for the enjoyment of others.
The more you convince the model she's beautiful and captivating and has that something special working for her, the more she becomes exactly that. I'm not talking about insincere, syrupy praise. There has to be a level of sincerity to it and it must appear to be without other motives.
PhotoCamel: How do you attempt to separate yourself from the majority of erotic shooters?
DiGiorgio: I don't. I shoot things the way it makes sense to me and for me. If the results are different than what many others are doing, and that difference is seen in a positive light, I'm happy. If not, oh well.
PhotoCamel: Is it more difficult to work with couples or more than one model at a time?
DiGiorgio: Certainly that makes the lighting more difficult. It's not the models' job to insure they're not casting, for instance, unwanted shadows on each other. That's the shooter's job to watch for that. It's all about details and those details sometimes become something shooters need to pay more attention to when they're shooting more than one model at a time.
PhotoCamel: Do you generally shoot a lot of photographs during a session and select just a few, or do you go for quality up front?
DiGiorgio: For the most part, I don't get to select what's used in the final products. In fact, I'm rarely asked which images I think are the best. Generally, I shoot about 150-200 images in a typical sessions, sometimes more. When I post a few of them on a forum like PhotoCamel, they're usually images that kind of jumped out at me. I really hate going through hundreds of images. I only look at those images that pop out at me while they're in thumbnail form. Sometimes, weeks or months later, I'll go back thru the images and find a few cool ones that I missed.
PhotoCamel: You're a Canon shooter. How did you settle on that brand?
DiGiorgio: Other than Canon being the undisputed leader in digital SLR image capture?
PhotoCamel: Which lenses do you use most often in the studio?
DiGiorgio: I don't own a lot of glass. I wish I did. Since I'm both a stills and video shooter, my equipment budget includes all of that. Plus there's the lighting and grip and post-production and all that stuff, which is fairly expensive. I like shooting with Canon's 85mm f/1.8 prime. The 28-135 IS USM zoom is a very versatile, all-around utility lens.
I own nothing longer than the 28-135 but I'm probly going to puchase either Canon's 135L prime or the 70-200L zoom, or both. I have a girlfriend who shoots weddings and also landscapes and nature. She's been inviting me along on her photo adventures. I'll probably need to buy a decent wide-angle pime sometime in the future if I'm going to shoot more of that stuff. I also like shooting street photography from time to time and, for that, i have that little Canon 50mm cheapie that is sharp as a tack!
PhotoCamel: How about lighting? Any preferences in brand or setup?
DiGiorgio: I'd certainly like to upgrade my lights. Possibly to Hensel. I have Novatron monolights, four of them, and they get the job done. I also have a few no-name strobes but some Canon Speedlites. Better gear usually translates to more efficient production work-flow. But there's so much other stuff I want to buy as well.
PhotoCamel: What do you look for in a photograph when deciding which of the shots you've taken will be worthy of presenting?
DiGiorgio: Expression and pose. My lighting and exposure is usually consistent so, more often than not, it becomes all about what the model is conveying in the image.
PhotoCamel: Can you talk a bit about your postprocessing methods? What typically do you do at the computer?
DiGiorgio: Lately, I've been doing less and less skin processing. Instead, I try to use production lighting to make the skin softer and even. I generally open an image and then crop and resize it. If I think it needs it, I'll apply the Shadow/Highlight tool, usually to bring out details in the shadows. After that, I'll adjust with Levels or Curves and sometimes I need either to saturate or desaturate the color a bit.
I'll then fix things, blemishes, whatever, with the Clone Stamp tool or the Healing tool. I use Gaussian Blur sparingly and never as a whole body treatment. I apply it only where it needs it and I try to make it subtle. I sometimes use the Liquify tool to fix things or enhance things and the last thing I do is apply the Unsharp tool as a mask and sharpen where needed. I then convert to sRGB and Save for the Web.
PhotoCamel: How about your skin treatment methods. Any secrets you care to divulge?
DiGiorgio: Don't overdo it! Keep it subtle. We're looking to make skin attractive, not plastic.
PhotoCamel: What are your biggest two or three gripes about being an erotic photographer?
DiGiorgio: It's limiting in terms of creativity. There's usually no time to shoot other stuff while the model is there that is other than what the client expects. It's hard to justify experimenting on someone else's dime. I also hate it when time limitations cause me or the client or both of us to decide something's good enough when, in fact, it isn't, at least from my perspective.
PhotoCamel: To a new photographer looking to break into your line of work, what advice would you give?
DiGiorgio: It's what the models and, later, the photo editors say about you and your work that brings you more work. Don't try to be a super-star shooter coming out the gate. Shoot for consistency and efficiency. Pay your dues. Assist someone. Learn as much as you can. Read, experiment, apply what you've learned. Shoot trade-for whenever you can. Don't oversell your skills but, at the same time, don't undersell them. Network. Get your foot in the door whenever you can. Your personality and on-set demeanor will speak as loud as the quality of your work.
PhotoCamel: How about models: what are some of the biggest frustrations you have in working with the ones you've shot?
DiGiorgio: Their inexperience. Often, they're clueless and have little sense of how to pose and provide expression that works best for them. That takes away from the creative and technical attention a shooter needs to pay to everything. Shooting with a Tera Patrick is a sheer delight. Shooting with an inexperienced model can be frustrating and hard work, especially if they have a great look but just don't know hot to sell it.
PhotoCamel: Biggest joys?
DiGiorgio: When I capture an image that takes the model's beauty and allure to a new level and everyone notices it right away.
PhotoCamel: What goals do you have, photographically? Personally?
DiGiorgio: I'm trying to move into fashion and other commercial forms of people photography. I'd love to stumble into celebrity photography. That takes a bit of luck I'm afraid. But I'm a people person. I like shooting people more than anything. My best photographic skills, I believe, are my interpersonal skills with the subjects.
James DiGiorgio's work often appears in PhotoCamel's Glamour and Erotic forum.
See more: James DiGiorgio's PhotoCamel gallery (18+).
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