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Category : Instruction

27 Aug 2018

Testing Before Using

I know that I often state whenever I get a new modifier/strobe/etc. I ALWAYS test them BEFORE putting them into my workflow. I’ve had a suggestion arise lately about showing them in a group in addition to in each of my modifier/strobe posts. Sounded like a good idea so here we go, but I have no plans to make this post comprehensive for all of my tests. Just a few. The first covers the Saberstrip v2.0 that utilizes the Flashpoint eVOLV200s.

Saberstrip v2.0

Sometimes I use them in a triangle, sometimes just two parallel to the ground. Replicates a ring light, but with the ability to back away using a long lens to compress the talent.

Test using a triangle configuration.

Test using them in a pair.

The Glow EZ Lock

Test setup.

Mole Richardson Fresnel Conversion

Bought this 1965 MGM Studios MR 412 Fresnel and converted it from a 1000 watt constant tungsten light into a strobe Fresnel. The following images were all shot AS TESTS prior to putting the Fresnel into my workflow.

Parabolix 35D

Elinchrom 39″ Deep Rotalux 

 

I NEVER place anything into my toolkit unless I’ve tested it previously. Too many unexpected situations come up in any session. Being unprepared with things you KNOW about is not wise.

22 Jul 2018

Teaching High School Kids About Photography

Jamie Smith, a man who I met in 2010 while attending a week long class by Greg Gorman has remained in contact and become my friend. Jamie worked with the famous Jay Maisel for over 10 years in NYC and now runs Social Fabric Collective“Social Fabric Collective is a non-profit organization that provides professional photography equipment, education and inspiration to high school students who are as diverse as they are dynamic.”

Earlier in 2018 Jamie asked if I would be interested in speaking to his class of young high school students about my view of photography. Prior to becoming a full time pro I was in the field of training at the corporate level. Even back then I HATED/LOATHED/WAS DISGUSTED by PowerPoint or rather how people attempt  to utilize PP. So I opted to do my hour long lesson old school, with paper that students read and actual photographs they could hold and view. As a training professional I know that a self paced lesson lends itself to much more retention. I know that so many people today like video because ‘it’s easy’ meaning it’s passive. And it’s NOT self paced, especially in a classroom environment.

So I thought I would post what I presented in the event it helps others pick and choose parts of my syllabus to teach others. The first part was handing out a printed form of this:

“July 17 2018 – Palo Alto CA

Hi my name is Mark and I’m a full time professional photographer. Prior to this life I was a trainer for Sony Playstation, a 3D animator and back then some of my clients included Johns Hopkins University, Estee Lauder, Nike, Bausch and Lomb, and DHL.

Photography tends to be a solitary activity and although I have no idea why you decided to enter this course I will assume that you have in interest in creating imagery. The type of imagery everyone wants to create is as varied as the number of people in the world. Today, everyone is a photographer, whether we’re talking about the ever present ‘selfies’ (ugh) or taking photos with whatever you have at the time. Photography is a satisfying pursuit, and I have found it is my lifelong endeavor. My preference is photographing people – dancers, actors and musicians. In reality I use a camera just to meet people.

It’s kind of easy to get into the ‘tech trap’ wondering what is the best camera, the best lens, the best light, the best camera bag. You get the picture. My personal view is to not allow myself to get hung up on that aspect of this life. It’s easy to see if you peruse photography forums, heck forums of any kind. There are always haters, boasters, see ME! types. Always discussing gear, what is the BEST, blah blah blah. But what is so apparent are the haters seldom if EVER post photos they’ve created other than silly test shots. Buying expensive things does not make an expert or an artist.

It’s also easy (and in most cases necessary) to focus solely on the technical aspects of photography. F stops, depth of field, shutter speed, sync speed, ISO noise, blah blah blah blah blah. But there are literally TONS of sites and Google searches we can do to find that info. And yes those elements are important but what I want to try to pass on to all of you today is what took me a long time to learn for myself….the art of seeing.

My epiphany happened when I was watching an Argentine Tango performance and became captivated by the light, the movement and the shadow. Those elements didn’t need a camera to be appreciated and were not the elements that made me a photographer. Nope, it was all about looking at the world in a way I had not encountered before. Instead of just looking – I would view a scene, a person, an object as a story. As I looked upon a sunset, a sunrise, a beautiful scene, an interesting or beautiful face, a tragedy, an object of any kind, my mind would begin to formulate a story about what I was viewing. I’d identify the feeling I’d emote while looking at the person, object or scene. I’d notice the light, how it fell upon the scene/person/object and how the light made me feel, how the shadows played against the light. The EMOTIONS I was feeling as I focused my gaze.

It went even further. I began to associate imagery with senses not normally associated with a picture. The smell of a sunset, the taste of a rock, the music I would hear in an expression. It was then that I began to notice that my photographs turned into much more than just a ‘pretty picture.’ Without a story, without feeling, a nice photograph is just a pretty picture. Some of my favorite imagery by artists I admire are underexposed, overexposed or blurry. But it’s the FEELING and STORY of the image that moves it from nice to fantastic to memorable.

Immerse yourself in the moment. I found that looking at the back of my camera while I’m out and about often meant that the truly GREAT shot was missed because I was paying attention to the wrong thing, the past, not the moment. There’s plenty of time to appreciate or loathe the image you shot…..later.

All art is about FEELING and STORY. Focus on the elements that don’t depend upon a camera so that when you have one in your hand, you will create something incredible. Be patient and watch. Observe, listen, smell, taste and touch. It will make your work rich beyond what you could have imagined.

Welcome to a different world. Welcome to Seeing

When you’re done reading this, but more importantly understand what I’m saying, raise your hand.”

Once each student was done reading the handout, I gave them an envelop with 10 photos and 10 index cards with these instructions:

Instructions

In this pack are ten images along with ten index cards. The images have a number written on the back of them. On the index card I would like you to

  1. Write the image number you are viewing on the index card
  2. Write a title for the image
  3. Write the Feeling you get when viewing the image
  4. Turn the card over
  5. Write your story of the image

Do this for each image, so in the end you should have ten index cards with a Title, Story and Feeling

When you are done, raise your hand

Here are the ten images that were contained in the envelop:

I then had all ten of the images posted at the front of the class with the corresponding numbers on envelops below each image. I asked each student to place their corresponding index card into those envelops. I asked each student to read all of the other cards to see how people view images differently. Unless you go to galleries with others or those who have also attended it’s tough to hear what others think of the very same image. What that does is it allows people to understand that everyone brings their own bias or experience in viewing any image or painting. It ‘opens your eyes’ to the view of others.

I also asked each student to text me their favorite photo. It didn’t need to be taken with their phones, but they must select one favorite image. I printed out each of the photos and made a lanyard so they could hang their favorite image around their neck….backwards. Each student sat in front of the class facing the whiteboard while the other students voiced how they each felt about the photo and what the story was for the image. The student who took the photo just listened, no feedback was allowed be it verbal or physical in nature. This allows each student to hear other people’s impression of their work. It gives them a window into how people perceive what they’ve created. That is an important part of learning in the creative arts. For the two students who didn’t send a photo I believe they missed an opportunity not often offered.

 

And finally I had a Q/A session where each of the students could ask me questions about photography.

And of course, a lit class photo.

13 Jun 2018

Seeing Light and Shadow

I get quite a few questions about light. Specifically questions about strobe brands, what I feel is the best modifier, focusing rods, octabanks, blah blah blah. I get it; I want to know about things like that as well. But on a recent trip to a client’s location I was asked to photograph a group of 2800 high school students as they attended the 5th Avenue Theatre’s Annual High School Musical Awards. It’s a huge event equivalent to the Tony Awards for High School students.

Almost all of the imagery I create at this annual event is ‘non lit’ meaning no strobes or modifiers, only available light. I’m not speaking of available ‘natural light’ from the sun. Nope it’s all unnatural light either from stage lighting or very dark back stage or street lighting. If you’ve never been in the wings of a live theatre just imagine the illumination of a strip club bar and you get the idea of what it’s like.

The real visual story action happens in the alley behind the theatre. It’s where the kids are collected to go backstage before their school performances of the productions for which they’ve been nominated. Obviously the energy is very high. Combine adolescent hormones with a very exciting event and you get a small picture of the energy!

The lighting in the alley is what you’d expect. The illumination is to prevent crime, light the trash bin areas and the HVAC equipment. Anything BUT something conducive to creating any type of portrait photography! But I decided to grab a few groups of students to use what light I had to create some portraiture. I wanted to test my own theories and when people ask me how to use light I simply say “study light.”

So the alley has about eight tungsten lights, the kind you see in the back of any retail establishment near the loading dock or employee entrances. Covered in an industrial plastic, they’re hearty to resist breakage as well as being damn bright. Each light is about 15 feet high on the brick walls and spaced about 25 feet apart running the length of the alley.

So I placed the groups of kids so that the light that fell on them created shadows I wanted and lit their faces in the manner I wanted for the mood of each shot. How I did that is something I won’t go into and I didn’t use any reflective materials or trash to fill in the shadows. Nope this was completely ad hoc shooting with the light I had from those alley lights. My point here is rather than concentrating on what brand, how many watt seconds, whether the modifier you’re lusting after is ‘truly parabolic’ study light and shadow. In my view it’s what will elevate your lighting beyond elevating your credit card balance with little actual yield.

Just a small view of the insanity that occurs in the alley. You can see that it’s dusk and one of the lights is just coming on.

“Light” (LOL) camera right 15 feet above the talent. How you position people is key in this sort of situation. The light is unmovable, but the people are not!

Same thing light camera right, but purposely overexposed to ensure the shadow detail is retained. I brought down the exposure in post. A whole different look than the image above this one for a different feel.

This group is directly across from my other two groups. I wanted a more broad light across their faces for this shot.

02 Jun 2018

iPad – Shuttersnitch – Lightroom Workflow Update June 2 2018

I’m posting this just so that I can rate images on my iPad to edit those images later in Lightroom on my office PC. This process shows you how to automate the rating process from Shuttersnitch to Lightroom. If you have no interest in that workflow, no need to read further.

Update June 5 2018

I just ran a test to see if two of my iPads would receive images simultaneously from my Canon 1DX II with the WFT-E6A dongle attached. Sadly no. Only one iPad can receive images through Shuttersnitch at a time. I had thought that since the Canon was simply a transmitting wifi signal both would pick up the images. Not so….sigh.

Update June 2 2018

I just returned from a client shoot for the production of Hunchback of Notre Dame. I took 1820 image during that live performance. Normally I do a backup on my Nexto drive and then wait until I arrive back at my office to do culling and editing. I HATE CULLING. Editing is much easier for me. But on this trip I did all of my culling on my iPad Pro as I waited at the airport and then on the flight back home which is only 2 hours. My wait time at the airport was about 1.5 hours and I worked on culling for about one hour. Then on the flight I worked on the iPad culling for about another hour. So in two hours I was able to cull 1820 images down to 576 and sent my Selection List to my email. Incredible time saver for me. I highly recommend the software I’ve listed in the Original Post.

What was so cool is the publicity shot I created for 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame was in print in the Seattle Times on the very day I was shooting production! Kinda cool to wake up at your hotel with a paper slid under your door with a photo!

Original Post

Selecting which images I will edit on my iPad is a pure joy! Much better than doing so on my laptop or desktop.

I’m going to start from the beginning. Back in 2012 I bought an iPad 2 and paired it with my Canon 1D Mark IV using a WFT-E6A Wi-Fi dongle and Shuttersnitch. I did this so I could shoot wirelessly tethered for my clients. For client work, being tethered is part of my workflow. Clients get to see images in real time without having to look at the back of my camera. For my work it’s much better than being tethered via Ethernet cables. I find that looking at the back of my camera by the client can ruin the flow between myself and the talent. It’s not to ensure color temp, focus, pixel peeping etc. during sessions. It’s to see if the shot mood, expression, concept are being executed as we discussed during our storyboard sessions. It’s so efficient to shoot tethered since a client lets me know when I’ve ‘got the shot’ and we can move onto the next scene.

And yes I realize that by shooting tethered via a cable allows me to shoot directly into Lightroom, but I much prefer a wireless tether. But like all things in life you don’t get something for nothing. My preference for shooting wirelessly tethered to my iPad meant that when I returned to the office, I had to download the files and Pick or Rate the images I wanted in Lightroom. I often had the client star the images they liked in Shuttersnitch during the session. I’d then export the Selection Files and manually enter the image numbers into Lightroom. A hassle….

And since half of my client work is via air travel, I’d have to open up my laptop, launch Lightroom and then go through my rating process in the air. I never edit on the plane, only pick the shots I think the client wants or has approved during the session. And if you travel 30-50 times a year you’ll understand using a laptop on an airplane is a PITA.

Fast forward to today, May 2018. After shooting for a new local client, my partner who is an Apple zealot wanted to just walk by the Apple store in downtown San Francisco. Since it was rush hour I mentioned that we should go in and look around to avoid the inevitable traffic. As I started to look around I saw the new iPad Pros which have keyboards built into the covers. I took my iPad Mini out of my bag and compared the weight of the Mini to the 10.5 inch Pro. Wow not much heavier if at all…hum

So then I wanted to see if the larger iPad would fit into my camera shoulder bag. It was at that point that the salesperson, Justin approached me. “Oh gosh you would have to walk up just as I’m trying to steal this thing wouldn’t you!?” He laughed nervously and I started to ask him some questions. He suggested I type on the new keyboard and that’s when I was hooked. I’m NOT an Apple person, I use a PC. As a matter of fact my iPad Mini is/was the ONLY Apple product I own. So when I was presented with a keyboard for an iPad and a way better screen I started to calculate my credit card balances….

Long story short; I bought the 256 Gig, 10.5”, Wi-Fi, iPad Pro, the keyboard cover and the Pencil. I was determined to find out if I could replace my laptop for business travel with the new Pro since it has a great keyboard. BUT my main priority was to see if I could select images on the Shuttersnitch app and have those selections transferred to Lightroom. IF that could happen I would be very happy. Why? Because working to select images in Shuttersnitch is WAY easier than in LR. AND using an iPad on the plane is way more convenient. I do NOT edit on my iPad, only select image for editing once I’m back in the office.

Keep in mind that for production shooting per performance, it is not uncommon for me to have 1,000 to 2,000 images to cull. And my clients expect turnaround time anywhere from 24-72 hours. For studio publicity sessions the number of images ranges from 500-800 per day and the turnaround time is the same. So the most efficient manner to cull images saves me much time.

So here’s how it’s done, what’s needed: (BTW this works on a Mac as well as a PC. My partner uses Mac and she’s thrilled too!)

I use three different brands of cameras. Fuji, Canon and Pentax. With the exception of my Fuji I can write to two different cards at the same time. So I send RAW files to one card and then low res JPGs to the second card. Why? When using SnitchSync you need both your RAW file and a JPG to match your selections when matching Shuttersnitch selections in LR. (Unless you’re using DNG files, then you only need those files) As a FYI using a Wi-Fi transmitting card like an Eye-Fi also works with the Shuttersnitch/iPad combo. It’s what I use in my Fuji and Pentax cameras.

When using a card reader hooked to the iPad, it downloads everything on that card including RAW files into the Camera Roll folder. That includes any RAW files and JPGs. If that doesn’t bother you then there is no need to direct RAW and JPG files to different cards. I always shoot RAW and the files are large, especially with the Pentax 645Z. So to speed up downloading to the iPad I just like to dump my small JPGs onto the iPad. I’ll leave that to your preference.

Please note that I have NOT outlined each and every step. You need to RTFM (read the fucking manual) for each product. It’s not my job to educate you on software.

Once the files are on your iPad then open up Shuttersnitch and create a new Folder

Then Import the images you downloaded into Camera Roll into the just created Folder

Once you select images in Shuttersnitch then export them to Selection List

Email the Selection List to your email account

Copy both your RAW files and JPGs into your main computer into the same directory. If you are using DNG files you only need to copy those onto your computer.

Copy the Selection List into your Clipboard

Open up your installed version of SnitchSync and paste your selection list into the proper field as show here.

Follow the onscreen instructions and you’re all done! The files you have flagged on your iPad are now rated in Lightroom! Note that the demo version of SnitchSync limits the number of Rated files to 5. You need to buy the full version to have all of your Rated images flagged. Hell it’s only about six bucks USD for crying out loud. And I had to check my Spam Folder for the registration number once I purchased it. So if you don’t receive yours right away, check your spam.

This process has been wonderful for me. Your own workflow may prove that this method is not valuable to your needs. But if so, it’s really a godsend! Also now that I have two iPads I will be testing to see if my cameras will send images to both iPads. I don’t see why it won’t work, but will post my findings. Why two iPads? One can be for the client to view and the other for the talent. Why not?!

29 May 2018

90 degree Light Stand Mounting for strobes – Updated May 29 2018

Update May 29 2018

David sent me a note (which is in the comments below) stating that the 8mm nut I specify is not the correct size. So I measured the bolt with my micrometer. I don’t want to disassemble the pin so my suggestion is for you to take your 90 degree brass fitting to any hardware store and measure the threads on one of their nut/bolt measuring stations. 

What is that mount you use to place the AD600 on a boom or lightstand when using the H600 remote head?

I had this article in my review of the AD600/xPLOR600 post. But so many people contact me about the self fabricated brackets I use to mount my xPLOR/Godox 600s on lightstands, I decided to copy the article about the brackets here as a separate post. To my knowledge no one makes a bracket that runs parallel with a lightstand so you can mount your strobe on the stand’s column. If you know of one other than what I describe below, please place a comment on this page so others can buy one.

I fabricated the mount I use because I could not find anything with a 90 degree angle that would not spin on a boom no matter how tight I’d tighten it down. My first try was with my trusty Manfrotto Superclamps which are great. But due to the weight/leverage of the AD600 base it just would not stay put enough for my taste. So I decided to use a truss clamp which never spins. But I had to fabricate the mounting…. (oh and thanks for asking if you can buy them from me, but I’m a pro shooter, not a pro fabricator….)

Parts:

dscf0075

The truss clamp assembled.

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The 10mm long bolt goes inside the truss clamp. It is necessary to grind or file down two opposing sides so the head of the bolt will fit in the recessed portion of the clamp and not spin when tightened. The upright bolt is the longer 30mm one that is screwed into the other end of the brass pipe fitting which becomes your light mount. Once you have tightened the bolt into the pipe fitting you will need to cut off the head of the bolt and either grind or file it down. The 8mm nut secures it to the pipe fitting so it does not loosen from the pipe fitting. I notched the stud so the screw from the AD600 would rest in that notch as an extra measure of safety in case the screw from the AD600 loosens.

dscf0077

The truss clamp I use is just right for stand diameters like C stand poles. For smaller diameters I just use some PVC pipe cut in half and filed down so it is not a complete circle. I then used gaff tape to join one side and small pieces of grip tape on the inside to prevent spinning of the PVC on the metal light stand. Works perfectly!

1m2_5973

As you can see in this photo the truss clamp works perfectly and does not spin. Because the length of the remote head to the light is about seven feet I still needed an additional counterweight, so I used a Manfrotto 15 pound boom counter weight.

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How I use the clamp on a vertical light stand.

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One HUGE advantage of my DIY clamp is I can leave it on my on location light stands and they fold as compact as if it was not attached! I leave them on my onlo stands because it’s just so easy to forget things, which I sometimes can do. And BTW all of my onlo stand have an adjustable leg. I seldom if ever encounter flat ground when on location!

26 Jan 2018

5 Different Modifiers, 2 Strobes over 2 Days

A trombonist and his PR rep flew in from Nashville, TN to conduct two day photo sessions for his upcoming CD release in the Fall. We had spoken over the phone and via email about the theme for his shoot. I didn’t feel that a traditional musician with instrument would suit his personality. Nor did I believe it would show any creativity, so we agreed on two separate sessions. One on location and one in studio.

Day one was conducted on location at Ocean Beach in San Francisco just before sunset. During his trip it was the only day when rain was not forecast which meant IF the weather people were correct, the sky would have wonderful clouds, one of my favorite elements for outdoor sessions. As luck would have it, the sky and weather were perfect…whew!

BTS shot. Here I used one AD-B2 with two eVOLV200s shot through an adjustable Aputure Fresnel Lens as the key light. Another single eVOLV200 using its included Fresnel head was used to augment illumination of the fire/cello/violin fire.

For each shot on both days I used a total of six different modifiers, but only two different strobes. xPLOR600s, and eVOLV200s. Using AD-B2 and 600ws extension heads gives me flexibility like no other system. It’s one of the big reasons I have switched over to this system.

Two eVOLV200s mounted in a single AD-B2 shot through an Aputure Fresnel modifier was the key light. A single eVOLV200 using its native Fresnel head and barn doors with gel was used to augment illumination on the fire/cello/violin bonfire. Canon 1DX Mark II 1/400th.

Canon 1DX Mark II 1/400th using two eVOLV200s inside the AD-B2 shot though the Aputure Fersnel head.

Day two was shot in studio using four different modifiers on four xPLOR600s, two using remote heads. The modifiers were:

  • An Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa using a DIY focusing arm in its fully flooded position as key light
  • An Adorama GlowPop 38 with both inner and outer diffusion panels as a rim light
  • An Andoer Metal Conical Snoot on a boom to illuminate the martini glass with mini trombone
  • A Cheetahstand 40 inch (100cm) QS40 Silver Beauty Dish with diffusion panel installed as the model’s leg light

Although I use a wide variety of modifiers from many different manufacturers I only use Flashpoint/Godox strobes. Why? Well because their performance, value, quality and flexibility gives me options that I’ve not been able to find anywhere else. The battery life of either of those units is incredible. I have yet to exhaust the battery during an all day session.

05 Jan 2018

Necessity is the mother of invention – UPDATE January 5 2018

UPDATE February 22 2018

During a client session they allowed me to experiment using my Elinchrom 69″ with focusing arm. Here are the results

Key light camera left in fully flooded position. Wonderful soft yet punchy light.

Pre shoot shot.

UPDATE January 5 2018

This month I have several sessions where I will use the focusing arm with my Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octabox. Elinchrom sells their Elinchrom 75″ Indirect Litemotiv Octa Softbox which is an inverted modifier. But unlike using a focusing arm the strobe is confined to a set distance from the modifier. Oh and not to mention it’s about $1100.00 USD more expensive than my 69’r! 

The Eli 69″ with my focusing rod.

Fully flooded the light distribution is incredibly even! The real test will be during my first shoot, but I am convinced at how incredible the light quality will be.

Fully focused.

Left: Elinchrom Rotalux 69″ Right PCB 86″ Soft Silver (v1.0) umbrella.

UPDATE December 31, 2017

Over the past two weeks I have been giving my new virtual friend Ulysses my experience using focusing rod modifiers. We’ve gone back and forth over FB Messenger as I answered some of his questions and concerns. It was during this time I realized that some people may not have any idea how a focusing arm paired with a parabolic or other modifier would benefit them. So instead of answering another email I decided to post this (My last post of 2017 btw) to benefit anyone who may have questions about focusing arm modifiers, their benefits and downsides. But are put off by their prices.

I found what I view as one of the most informative lessons on some of the benefits of a focusing rod on a YouTube channel. Karl Taylor and Urs Recher, two pro fashion shooters do an excellent job explaining the benefits of focusing arm modifiers. You can view that video here

If you begin to watch the video and think or say to yourself “Oh sure if I had the money to buy a $7,000 Broncolor Para 222 Mark I could do anything!” STOP READING NOW and go about your usual business.

I’ve posted elsewhere why I have switched to focusing arms modifiers and this post is about how you can do it with relatively simple ease. And just as important for a fraction of the cost of Broncolor, Briese or Parabolix. Of course the shape of the modifier you use will have a bearing on your results, but unlike people alleging you ‘have to have’ a pure parabolic shape I disagree based on my own actual usage. I love my Parabolix 35D, my Cononmark 120cm and my Westcott Zeppelins which I use with a focusing arm.

The best thing to do is to buy a Parabolix focusing arm from their site. They use a standard Profoto attachment to mount their modifiers to the focusing arm. The arm is excellent and well made. To attach the arm to any Bowens modifier you simply purchase a Haoge Profoto to Bowens Mount Speedring Ring Adapter

Viola! You now have a focusing arm that will work with any Bowens modifier! And you don’t have to go through the crazy fabrications like I did when I built my first one. (I just like doing that kinda stuff tho….)

Prior to figuring out that method I fabricated all kinds of things! My other solution was to purchase a Cheetahstand Chop Stick and modify it to accept a Bowens modifier. It took some doing and it works well. Someone mentioned that Edward at Cheetahstand stated that his Chop Stick will work with most Bowens mount modifiers and that’s true….to a point.

The ring on the top is the Cheetahstand Rice Bowl Bracket. The one on the bottom is the Westcott Zeppelin bracket. As you can see Cheetahstand’s bracket uses a proprietary size for the rod tips which are much smaller than the tips from other manufacturers. This makes using his ring impossible with other brand’s modifiers.

Sure his bracket fits a Bowens mount, but how do you attach it to a lightstand? So TECHNICALLY it’s true that his Chop Stick fits Bowens modifiers, BUT there’s no way to mount the stick to a light stand unless you’re using one of his modifiers and mounting bracket.

Left, Cheetahstand’s Birdcage 13 oz, right is the Parabolix 23 oz. They are interchangeable in function. The Chop Stick Birdcage is a third of the price too.

Back of the Chopstick’s arm mount. The knob at the top controls the tension of the device on the arm. The knob at 4:00 releases it from the Bowens mount. This is the heaviest part of the Chop Stick’s configuration.

Mounting side.

The arms of both the Chop Stick and Parabolix are about the same length.

My fabricated Chop Stick holder after modifying the Cheetahstand mount to accept a Bowens connector.

The modified Cheetahstand mount with the Bowens attachment.

The Chop Stick has a nice eyelet on the back of the actual stick for counterbalancing. But I find it much more convenient to use a SuperClamp and 90 degree arm to hold my AD600 when using the light weight head. Raising and lowering the modifier with the weight of a counterweight is often a pain in the ass. I mount the holder BELOW the first section of the risers. Great leverage here. This method works very well. Just FYI

For travel it’s a toss up. My DIY Cheetahstand Chop Stick with mount weighs a total of 4 pounds 13 ounces including the rod. The Parabolix weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces. For space the Chop Stick comes apart thereby having the ability to save space when packing. Not so with the Parabolix arm. Weight or space? It’s up to your needs. The Bird Cages which hold the lights are not included in these weights, but I have described their weight above.

So there you have it. This will be my last post about how to develop your own focusing rod. I have sessions to cover and don’t really have the motivation to talk more about this subject. I post this in case you want to do it as well.

Original Post

As I was growing up my father was always in the garage tinkering. During his lifetime he was a professional auto mechanic who was in a partnership in a Mobil Gas station. I’d work there in the summertime when full service was the norm. Later he became a civil engineer. He and I shared lots of good times in our home garage building things which were usually motors or crazy inventions. One of the aspects of life he taught me early on was “Boy there are people who will bitch that someone hasn’t invented or built this or that. Or they’ll bitch about how something is designed. Basically they’ll bitch about anything instead of trying to figure out how to fix it or inventing something themselves. Don’t listen to those assholes, if you need something that ain’t around, figure out how to build it and build it. I’m not raising no bitch, so just remember that!”

To this day I’m not sure if I never wanted to be ‘a bitch’ or I just plain enjoy figuring out how to do things. It’s one of the main reasons I HAVE TO HAVE a garage. Not to store shit people never use, but to fabricate things. I find it relaxing. And I must admit that my former racing motorcycle which is now the world’s most expensive towel rack does sit in my “Man Cave.” I just can’t bring myself to sell “Ashley.” 

Anyway I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that I adore focusing arm modifiers. I won’t go into all of the reasons, but one of the most frustrating things is every single manufacturer of focusing arm modifiers makes it so that their arm only works with their modifiers. Broncolor, Parabolix, Briese, Cheetahstand, Westcott, you name it, they can’t be used with other modifiers. I did find out that the Parabolix line of focusing arms will work with any Profoto mount. Their focusing arm uses the same attachment as Profoto so if one purchases a Parabolix focusing arm it will fit any modifier that uses a Profoto mount.

But many of my modifiers are now Bowens mounts. It’s my preferred modifier mount since I exclusively use Flashpoint/Godox strobes/heads now. As I examined Cheetahstand’s Chop Stick I discovered that I could modify his focusing arm so that it will allow me to attach ANY Bowens mount modifier to the focusing arm! It took quite a bit of modification and a bit of cussing, but now I have a focusing arm that will accept any Bowens modifier INCLUDING HARD MODIFIERS. What? WTF you may be thinking, hard modifiers Mark? Well I’m gonna try them and will report back later. Why not?!

I’m sure some people will ask questions like “Will it support the full weight of X or Y strobe?” What about if the modifier is not a true parabola?” To the first question, I’m not sure and I don’t really care because I’m not a manufacturer of this for retail. I made it to solve a problem. I plan to always use the remote head for the AD600. As for the second question, who cares?

Yep that’s a 7″ cone on the end just to illustrate that a hard modifier will fit on the focusing arm. I plan to use a PCB 18″ Omni to see how the quality of light changes with a hard modifier.

The Cheetahstand Bowens light holder.

LOL crazy!

I think Edward’s Rice Bowl present an excellent value, but I already have a 47 and 59″ Zeppelin so I’d rather use them with a focusing arm than purchase more modifiers that are similar in shape.

How it looks from inside the Zep.

22 Dec 2017

DIY Bowens Focusing Rod – Updated 12-24-17

UPDATE 12-24-17

Today I installed an Adorama Glow Pop 38″ octa into my DIY focusing rod in anticipation of purchasing the new SMDV Mega 160 Speedbox as well as the SMDV 110 cm octa.

Glow Pop using the Cheetahstand Chop Stick.

Side view with Glow Pop

Light in fully flooded position.

Light in fully focused position.

Original Article

It’s no secret that I have enthusiastically adopted the use of focusing rod light modifiers. I’ve found them so versatile and the light quality they produce to my taste and my clients satisfaction. Sure there are times I love super soft light, but for me soft light, or the constant use of soft light is well….. boring. Indirect light like when using an umbrella produces some of the best contrast, detail of any modifiers I’ve used. the problem is umbrellas have their own issues one of them in controlling spill.

When I first was made aware of the Broncolor Para line of focusing rod modifiers I was captivated. It took quite some time for me to find a rental house that would not only rent the Para 88 octa, but the focusing rod as well. Once I tried one, I was sold. But the price was too cost prohibitive for my client base. At the time $4900.00 USD for one modifier was too pricey. So I made my own focusing rod which I wrote about here. I love the light it produces and the flexibility it gives me.

Since those days I purchased a Parabolix 35D, a CononMark 120cm focusing rod modifier and a Cheetahstand Chop Stick which I use with my Zeppelin line of modifiers. What has always frustrated me is I could never find anyone who produced a focusing rod that would accept ANY Bowens modifier. Each of the manufacturers I mentioned before including Cheetahstand all use proprietary mounting solutions for their focusing arms. 16 rods, or 8 rods, holes a certain size, you name it every manufacturer only fits their own line.

Prior to using focusing arm modifiers, my favorite modifier were my two Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octas. The quality of lights they produce is delicious. Yet because of the Elinchrom speedring design I could never figure out a way to mount a focusing arm to those octas…until now.

I searched for a bracket that is used for speedlights which can be directly mounted to a swiveling Bowens adapter and found this one on eBay. The next issue was finding a male Bowens adapter that would fit onto the mounting bracket. After much measuring I determined that the Adorama or SMDV Bowens ring would fit perfectly. There is quite a bit of modification that needs to happen and perhaps at some point I will outline those steps. But for now anyone with motivation can buy those two items (which were the toughest parts to figure out btw) and make your own. And NO I will NOT be making/selling these brackets, so please don’t ask.

The one other issue many trolls will like to talk about is if this or that modifier is TRULY PARABOLIC in shape. While those folks are flapping their pie holes along with their constant need to be right, I simply look at how any modifier PERFORMS to my own as well as my client’s satisfaction to determine if it’s right for my taste. I love the flexibility of choice and having a bracket that will allow me to use any Bowens mount modifier with a focusing arm gives me  freedom to choose. I’m even going to try hard modifiers with a focusing arm!!!! Who knows I may find out it works great…or not. But at least I have the option.

My focusing rod bracket which accepts any Bowens mount modifier. The focusing arm is by Cheetahstand and called a Chop Stick.

The Pro L Bracket Adapter Flash Speedlite Holder for Bowens Mount I bought off of eBay.

Glow Speed Ring Adapter, the male part of the bracket.

Front view of the completed bracket

Rear view of the completed bracket

Bracket in the foreground next to my Parabolix 35D

Elinchrom Deep Rotolax installed using the Flashpoint remote head in a fully flooded position.

How it looks from the back side.

My test shot of Maggie. Focusing arm is in the fully flooded position.

16 Nov 2017

The Hard Truth About Hard Modifiers

Hard modifiers. They’re so misunderstood! Most photographers seem to always be chasing soft light, the softer the better. I understand that too, but in my world there is sometimes a need for hard modifiers. On location in high wind, nothing is better to combat the potential disaster of turning your light stand, modifier and strobe into an orbiting satellite than a hard modifier.

Yet there are many other uses for hard modifiers. Yes they CAN throw beautiful soft light. And in those instances where you need to throw and control light a long distance they’re wonderful. I recently had an assignment where I had to light 90 musicians on stage to make the scene appear like a Rembrandt painting which meant making the light even across the stage. It would have been impossible without the use of hard modifiers or Fresnel lenses.

To date this was the most difficult lighting set up I’ve accomplished.

But the point of this post is to advise you that the SHAPE of a hard modifier can easily be confused with how the light pattern will perform. Most of use ‘think’ that a long cone shaped modifier will throw light in a long narrow pattern focusing light in the same shape as the modifier. Back in the day when I was talking to Paul Buff about his long throw reflector he said “Mark, the long throw’s center concentration of light is NOT as intense as my 22” beauty dish. But it does throw the light further.” I thought to myself “Uh sure Paul, you must not know what you’re talking about…” Hahahahaha who was I to doubt the INVENTER of his brilliant products. So I tested them side by side and guess what? He was fucking right of course and I was shocked….at my ignorance.

Adorama sent me some of their modifiers so I decided to test them side by side with others I own to see the light patterns they produce. Having been schooled by Paul I was better educated to ‘theorize’ how each of the modifier’s patterns would perform.

All were shot using a Flashpoint xPLOR600 set at full 1:1 power. The distance to the seamless was 35 feet. Camera was set at 1/125th, f22, ISO 100. This test was performed just before a client’s session so it’s not about the power capabilities of the modifiers, but their light patterns.

Bowens long throw

Glow 45 Long Focus

Glow Magnum

PCB 18″ Omni

PCB Retro Laser

As you can see by the light patterns above and the shape of each modifier below, light patterns don’t always follow the shape of the modifiers. Right now my favorites are the Glow 70 Degree Magnum, the PCB Omni and Retro Laser for throwing concentrated beams of light over distance. The Glow 45 and Bowens long throw extend light with a much softer/less concentrated pattern of light.

Glow 70 Degree Magnum Reflector

Glow 45° Long Focus Reflector

Bowens long throw reflector

PCB Retro Laser (Discontinued)

PCB 18″ Omni reflector. How I modified the Omni for a Bowens mount can be found here.

So here is how I’ve used hard modifiers for different applications:

PCB Omni using a Priolite MBX1000 hotsync.

Outdoor on location portrait using the configuration above.

Same configuration, but using the PCB triple layer sock over the Omni to light the three bakers. The triple layer sock produces such wonderful soft light from the Omni.

Omni, two xPLOR600s combined to use the 1200 ws head for my Tango in the Mohave session.

PCB Omni

PCB Omni key light. Rim light and smoke light in behind talent.

Omni with two xPLOR600s with the 1200 ws head. As you can see from the shadows the sunlight which I used as a rim light was very bright and intense.

My point of this posting is to demonstrate the light patterns and possible usage of hard modifiers in your took kit. For the right application I find them an invaluable tool. In the future I will be updating this post with actual shots using the Glow line of hard modifiers.

11 Sep 2017

Using the Godox System

UPDATE October 2 2017

I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.

Original Post

I recently created a dance session using a wide range of the Godox strobe system:

My goal was to create the illusion of a stage, a grand hall using light, shadow and atmosphere. This was the very first time I used every single Godox light I have including a speed light. What is wonderful is how seamlessly all of the lights integrate into a system. I could not be happier with this line of strobes.

All shot with a Canon 1DXII, EF24-70 II. Most images shot at 1/500th at various f stops, ISO 100. I have quite a few reviews of the gear I sighted above. The purpose of this post is to simply show how I use the gear rather than update each review. I find actual usage much more helpful for me and hope this helps you as well.

The warehouse where I ran this session. The chandelier was borrowed from a theatre company. It is lit with an xPLOR 600 using a PCB Retro Laser modifier (no longer made) which is out of frame. The light to the left is to illuminate the talent using a 1200ws head and a Fresnel modifier.

Four xPLOR 600s, two powering the 1200ws head, one placed into a Parabolix 35D and one in the PCB Retro Laser modifier.

Cheetahstand Lantern as top light using two eVOLV200s in an AD-B2, Parabolix 35D camera right. Speed light rigged into the umbrella.

You can see how I rigged the speed light into the umbrella. I fabricated the handle since this is just a cheap photographic umbrella.

My fantasy composite of combining her image and a shot I captured along the Oregon Coast. When I created her umbrella image I had planned on working it into a composite, so I knew how I wanted the light/shadows to match the scene.

Two Fresnel heads. Parabolix camera right, low and fully focused.

Two Fresnel heads. Parabolix camera right and fully focused.

Two Fresnel heads. Parabolix camera right and fully focused.

Two Fresnel heads. Parabolix camera right and fully focused.

Oops, forgot to turn off the smoke machine again!!!!

 

 

05 Aug 2017

To Studio or Not to Studio?

My partner and I went back and forth for quite some time about whether or not we wanted to invest in a long or short term lease on a studio. In the Bay Area real estate is very pricey, much more so than other areas of the country. But that is not the primary reason we opted to NOT put our money into a studio. I think there are photographers who can easily justify a studio which includes much more than just the rent. Sure it would be so much more convenient for me to have a studio instead of lugging gear and assistants to and from locations. But, and this is a BIG BUT for me, I would get bored, completely and utterly in about 2 shoots. Why? I bore easily and shooting against seamless or bringing in props, constantly building sets, etc. would drive me to the point that I may decide to return to a corporate job! (No way really…)

For me the world is the best studio, the absolute best for my work. But sometimes for a variety of reasons my clients cannot arrange to shoot on location so I shoot in rented studios or spaces which are convenient to the client. Flying the talent in, housing them, using Union makeup/hair/wig/prop you name it staff is expensive. Transporting them to a studio far away is inconvenient to many clients. You’d be shocked at how some of the ‘studios’ I work in are crazy cramped or awful from a shooter’s standpoint. But a big part of being a pro is working with what you got.

But there are times when a client wants ‘more’ than just seamless but doesn’t have the budget to house or transport all of the talent to the perfect location. So a rented studio for the day or week, or better yet a warehouse is what I use. This is where light/atmosphere and theatrical type modifiers like gobos can make a scene more effective. Whenever people ask how I create different looks in studio I just say, “Watch movies, look at the light/environment and figure out how to make the scene you’re watching. Imagination is insanely more powerful than any new camera gear. And simply having an idea is not good enough. You need to actually make it happen.”

Using the Mohave Desert for a backdrop. Yes it’s lit with strobes and I used my smoke machine.

Driftwood structure built on the beach. Strobes and smoke used.

Publicity shot for Les Miserable shot on location in a rock quarry. It was daytime using three strobes.

One of several ballet shots done in Dallas TX using smoke and strobes. On location in front of an art sculpture.

Publicity for the play Assassins shot in an alley.

Using the wings of a stage as the environment for a publicity shot for Cabaret.

Recently a client ‘wanted’ to do their publicity shoot on location, but since scheduling of the talent and the availability of the venue didn’t jibe we shot in studio, a rented warehouse. By using atmosphere and special light modifiers the client was pleased.

Preparing for the shoot as wardrobe and makeup is applied.

The whole point of this posting is to help you decide if a studio is something you ‘have to have.’ In my case it is not simply because the type of work I do constantly demands new looks and feelings for my client base. Every shooter has different needs and there are no ‘right or wrong’ answers.

12 Feb 2016

Focusing Parabolic Rod and Cheetah Stand Rice Bowl

UPDATE: August 2 2017

I have written a separate article about using a Cheetahstand Chop Stick with a Westcott Zeppelin. You can read that article here.

UPDATE: 2-24-16

I conducted my first commercial session using only Godox lights and a Cheetahstand Rice Bowl 36″ modified to accept and use my DIY focusing parabolic rod. Since Godox has not yet released the AD600 remote head I used the AD360 on the rod due to its light weight. I am very pleased with the light quality, characteristic and my results. This will be my go to focusing modifier for on location sessions.

Mark Kitaoka

Rear glass was backlit by an AD600BM, no modifier, bare bulb. Key light was lit with a AD360 shot through a CheetahStand 36″ Rice Bowl modified to use a focusing rod, camera left about 10 feet away from the talent. No diffusion panels. Light was in a maximum focused position very close to the apex of the modifier. (pushed into the Rice Bowl) Light was pointed to the left of the talent bouncing the light off of the left side of the RB to illuminate the musician. This produces both a specular and soft light unique to a focused light which is different than a softbox. Pentax 645Z using a 45-85mm lens. Triggers were the X1C with a FT-16 trigger on the hotshoe of the X1C. Client is the Principal harp player for the Dallas Opera and the Santa Fe Opera.

MKitaoka_160222_3351-Edit

The Cheetahstand rice bowl 36″ and I imagine his larger sizes with a focusing rod make controlling light spill much easier. This was taken WITHOUT his grid. The ability to carom light off the sides of the RB allow one to point the modifier AWAY from the talent thereby allowing one to direct the light away, but illuminating the bounced light toward the subject. Think of it like playing billiards when you do a bank shot off of the sides. Very effective because you can move the light inward toward the apex which is not possible without a focusing rod. More versatile than just a grid with different light qualities.

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27 Nov 2015

Light and Atmosphere on Location

I was recently hired to do an on location session for a Seattle Theatre company which needed publicity photographs for “Assassins” which is a play about those who have attempted or succeeded in the assassinations of US Presidents. My primary questions whenever a client asks for imagery is always “What is the mood I’m to create?” In this case the client’s response was “gritty and dark.”

All of the ‘assassins’ in their group photo. Smoke machine behind the talent with one coned strobe behind to illuminate the smoke. Key light is a 64″ parabolic umbrella high camera left.

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14 Sep 2015

Becoming a photo assistant

I’ve always been a huge proponent of learning via hands on and have advocated to many on forums or to aspiring photographers to find a mentor. One of the very best ways to learn the craft of photography is to assist a photographer as their assistant.

This is much more difficult than it sounds and for anyone who has reached out to commercial shooters to offer ‘assistance’ you may or may not have encountered resistance and in some cases even reluctance when you’ve offered help. Having been on both sides of the ‘offering’ and the ‘recipient of offers’ I wanted to explain some of my concerns and what I look for in any potential assistant.

This applies primarily to non paid of ‘volunteer’ assistants. Professional paid assistants are invaluable and there is a reason why they can command hi day rates. It’s also very common for me to ask for references from paid pro assistants and meet with them prior to considering them for any session. More on why later….

DSCF6893

MNK_9231-Edit

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21 May 2015

Having to Improvise…

There are many times when we are thrown a ‘curve ball’ when it comes to professional sessions. Although I try to always come prepared for the unexpected, there are times when I haven’t anticipated every possible scenario which can occur. And besides, my loathing of lugging means I can’t carry every single piece of gear necessary for all occurrences. Such was the case this week during one of my client sessions.

The warehouse space in all of its photographic glory. If you look closely you can see the four pairs of shop floodlights that saved my day.

During an arts festival one of my assignments was to do some editorial work of an artist in his warehouse/studio. No one could tell me about the space because at the very last minute the venue had to be changed for legal reasons. My assignment was strictly editorial in nature, no portraits just imagery that would capture his studio and the patrons visiting his exhibit. So I decided to only take two DSLRs and my trusty Fuji X100T along with some lenses of various focal lengths.

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25 Apr 2015

So You Want to be a Professional Photographer?

I’ve written quite a bit lately about gear, my little inventions and experiences using them. I try to post those tidbits on photography forums in order to help anyone who wishes to try those techniques as a ‘pay it forward’ type of action. I have a love/hate relationship with photography forums or forums of any kind. Why? Because there are trolls who live there and could care less about producing art, but rather reside on those sites ‘to be right’ by showing how much they know. Yet I seldom if ever see a body of work they’ve produced. It’s so easy for them to sit in a dark room eating Cheetos and sharp shooting from an anonymous place. Ever notice trolls never use their real names or don’t have a link to their own images? Don’t get into the trap of listening to what trolls have to say. If they really knew how to CREATE great images, they’d be out doing it instead of having terminally orange fingers and keyboards while just spewing out facts and figures.

Elena Gatilova – Teatro Zinzanni, Cirque du Soleis

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23 Apr 2015

Rovelight with Bowens Maxlight 8″ 65 Degree Reflector

UPDATE 9-21-16 

Adorama’s Flashpoint XPLOR 600 TTL Review

UPDATE: June 22 2015

Sadly I can no longer recommend Adorama’s Rovelight. Click here for my reasons.

OCD, yup that’s me with light. This summer I have several outdoor dance shoots planned and in my normal way I’ve been obsessing about the light. The Rovelight was an answer to my prayers due to its HSS capabilities, portability and 600WS light output. But just the right modifier has escaped me up until today. I have been researching hard modifiers rather than octas, softboxes, umbrellas and such. You see where I shoot and what I love is wind. Moderate wind that makes hair blow back, wardrobe flow, all of those yummy facets in a photo that suits my shooting style. (Let’s not talk about my portable smoke machine, I don’t want to give any fire department fuel for my future trial…)

Bowens Maxlight reflector

Bowens Maxlite 8″ 65 degree reflector

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14 Apr 2015

AD 360 S DIY Mount Bracket diffuser

I love the portability of all of the recent bare bulb 360s no matter the brand be it Godox, Flashpoint or Cheetahstand. The power over speedlights, the even spread of a bare bulb and their HSS features all make these lights incredible for on location shoots. For more power I recently purchased a 600WS Flashpoint Rovelight that also features HSS for those times where my sessions take me outdoors for dance photography. You can read my impressions of the Rovelight’s HSS performance here.

My trusty Einsteins remain my studio lights of choice.

S mount parts. The center of the three square holes that is drilled through to the front just below the light mounting platform is where the Elinchrom rod/disk will reside.

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24 Jan 2015

Imagination and Improvisation – How to REALLY Improve Your Photography

This small tutorial has little to nothing to do about camera gear. I’m on a bit of a rant these days about photo forums. The inane banter that goes on there does little to help photographers who wish to improve their craft. In most cases I find the loudmouths are have to be right trolls and there simply to be….right. At least in their own minds.

For seven years I taught men and women how to navigate their motorcycles around California racetracks. I’d hear similar things like “Oh if I buy these pipes/Powercommander/520 chain/blah blah blah it will make me faster.” Invariably those same individuals would leverage their credit cards to buy the latest titanium bits to lighten their bikes. Did their lap times fall….uh not much if at all and why? Because they’d rather BUY and brag about their gear than learn and practice. How about getting in better cardio shape and losing 15 pounds instead of spending thousands on titanium parts to save 5 pounds of sprung weight? How about listening and implementing what your instructor/coach is telling you instead of justifying why your BIKE is holding you down? Oh well….

So if you’re looking for the latest MTF chart or DxO results here, do yourself a favor and close this browser window now. Occasionally I may mention the type of camera I was using and WHY, but beyond that this article is all about improving your imagination and ability to improvise at will. And in my work, that’s what separates the men from the boys. (No offense to women, you often already practice those qualities…but like most things there are exceptions!) There’s a big difference between TAKING or CREATING a photo…

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