Shooting Content 101

Stephen Yagielowicz
Covering the basics of adult content production in a single article means that only the briefest of treatments can be given to a mind-boggling array of concerns. Having said that, there is a never-ending supply of people who are embracing low-cost, high-tech, user-friendly photo and video equipment and heading off into a world of porn production — people who may have very little idea of what they're getting themselves into and who need a place to start.

More targeted to the individual or small team than the well-staffed and capitalized, experienced operators, this article hopes to reach the guy or girl just starting out — but starting out with an advantage by doing so in a market where the hardware price to performance ratio has reached a truly stunning level, opening the door to a much wider range of producers.

Leveraging technology in this way isn't necessarily the road to optimum results, but for small-scale productions where it may be an individual producer, or an amateur husband and wife or boyfriend/girlfriend team, the freedom to produce a variety of unique content offerings without the need of having additional photographers or videographers on the scene is a tremendous boon; it increases the spontaneity that's typically exhibited in this material and quite often produces results that are far beyond "good enough for the web."

With all of this in mind, consider the following as you embark into the exciting world of adult content production:

Legal Basics
While this article is not meant to serve as a legal primer on adult content production, your very first consideration when deciding to enter the shooting business is whether or not it is legal for you to do so within your jurisdiction. For U.S.-based operators, the hard truth is that California is the only state where adult content production is legal. The other 49 states prohibit it under prostitution and pandering laws.

While some operators have made calculated decisions to shoot in other states based on a presumption of the unlikelihood of prosecution — or they simply acted out of ignorance of the law — the ongoing "" case under way in Florida illustrates that state governments may be rethinking their default policies of turning a blind eye to porn production. Indeed, their reluctance to pursue such cases until now stems from a fear of an unwelcome ruling that would create another legal "porn valley" — this time in the Sunshine State or elsewhere.

There also are complicated record-keeping requirements beyond the scope of this article, making "step 1" the contacting of an attorney who is well versed in adult content law to discuss the realities of your own particular situation.

The easiest and perhaps best way to get into adult content production is to start by shooting still images. By focusing on the single image, you can develop an eye for lighting, composition and layout and acquire many of the basic skills that you'll need to succeed without having to invest an excessive amount of capital to get the ball rolling.

Today's digital cameras offer a high degree of quality for a comparatively low price, coupled with the immediacy of instant image files. The actual technical requirements of "web only" publishing are not as demanding or difficult to master as those of shooting for print — and all it takes to improve one's skill is to practice; shoot as much as you want, download and evaluate your pics, then go and shoot some more. Having others offer their opinions on your work is a great aid in helping to improve your technique.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to set up a mini-DV camcorder or two on tripods and let them roll in the background. A lone photographer, shooting still images while simultaneously capturing two different angles on the action via video, now has three separate, uniquely marketable products from a single shoot. High-quality screen caps can be made from the video footage as well, adding to the number of products available.

High-definition content is the wave of the future, but if you're just starting out, standard mini-DV camcorders and editing tools are more accessible and much easier to work with.

Lighting is Key
Photography is the art of capturing the interplay of shadow and light. What so often separates professional from mediocre photography is the quality of the lighting, both technically and esthetically, with the image's composition running a close second.

Pay close attention to lighting. Hundreds of books, videos, websites and other learning aids, including community college photography courses, are available to help you learn and understand proper lighting techniques, but nothing beats practice.

Working indoors? Set up a small studio space with a couple of lights, reflectors and a friend (or mannequin head) to pose for you and shoot as much as you can, experimenting with different light positioning and reflector/ diffuser techniques until you get the look you want. Your lighting should be natural, without harsh highlights or shadows and with a nice balance of color and contrast.

Equipment choices will include decisions about on-camera flash units and stand-mounted strobe units, and constant video lighting and room-cooling requirements should not be overlooked.

Location, Location...
Another major consideration for producers is where to shoot. Having your own permanent studio is the best place to start, but for many smaller producers, shooting in a part-time rental or home studio, motel room or outdoor location is not only a real necessity but a way to inexpensively develop content in a wide variety of surroundings.

Be careful when shooting outdoors, however, for reasons ranging from unwanted observers (including the authorities) to licensing issues and beyond. Indeed, there have been a number of cases brought against amateur adult shooters using recognizable public areas such as bars and landmarks for content production.

You did consider the problematic sound of your air-conditioner humming loudly on the video's soundtrack while you were trying to keep cool under those hot video lights, or the phone ringing, dog barking and other noises drowning out your model's whimpers while you were shooting, didn't you? The list of location issues goes on and on.

Shooting your content is only the beginning. Photos need to be optimized, cropped, rotated, cataloged and thumbed while video needs to be prepared for distribution as well.

Adobe Photoshop is the undisputed leader in photo processing software, and a wide range of video editing solutions — from expensive, high-end tools to the surprisingly capable (and free) Windows Movie Maker — exist for transforming your raw footage into finished productions. Here, your budget can definitely make a difference. Mac users get all the video editing tools they need in Final Cut Pro.

Your distribution methods also need to be taken into account, whether you need to master video encoding techniques for delivering the best possible quality using the least possible bandwidth or want to produce DVDs that work across the widest array of players.

While smaller operations may get away with burning DVDs, titles with even moderate distribution volumes should be duplicated and packaged professionally — a process typically farmed out due to being beyond the capabilities of most in-house production shops.

Remember that what you do in post-production can either elevate you to the top tiers or relegate you to warehousing unsalable product — so make your choices here carefully.

Finally, once you have your photos and videos, make sure that you take steps to preserve them. It's far too easy to accidentally erase a tape, lose a memory stick or have a hard drive failure. Making backups, burning them to DVD and storing copies of masters offsite are all reasonable precautions, as is storing masters onsite in the fireproof safes available at office supply stores. Be sure to store backup copies of all model releases and 2257 records, cross-indexed to the content masters, along with them.

Beyond the storage requirements are access practicalities. Windows Explorer is suitable up to a point, but it doesn't take too large of a library before you realize the advantages of dedicated asset and content management systems, keyword searchable libraries and other aids to organizing and viewing your content.

As you can see from the variety of issues that I've touched upon here, there's an endless amount of concerns facing adult content producers — and I barely scratched the surface. Hopefully I've pointed you in the right direction. Good luck, stay with it, learn and practice, practice, practice.