One of my favorite things to do is to imagine a concept and then execute it. This post is about concepts, mood and light rather than gear. Oh sure it takes gear to have my concepts go from only in my head to fruition, but if you’re looking for a gear review, it’s best to keep moving along.
I wanted to photograph Jeannette, a dear friend’s daughter who was studying ballet in two different concepts. I gave her a general idea of them; one would be as if she was dancing in a grand ballroom. The other was to appear as if I was on stage BEHIND the ballerina shooting downstage toward the audience. And finally I wanted to see if I could configure a lighting protocol where while under an umbrella I could light the ballerina’s face.
So once the concept was developed finding a venue and prop was necessary. A large warehouse along with a non-lit chandelier was needed for my grand ballroom concept. I would light the chandelier using a strobe and long throw reflector. Combining incandescent light, like a tungsten lit chandelier would be very difficult to balance with my strobes. They would overpower incandescent light no matter how low I powered down my strobes. It could be done, but why when I can light it and balance it with a strobe?
The next concept was a tad more difficult, making it appear as if I am actually on stage shooting toward the audience. Using two Fresnel heads on my strobes to appear as spotlights to create drama and spotlight shadows ‘on the stage’ was in order. And then to balance a fill light for her back was delicate to do. I also knew I wanted to add atmosphere to the shot which would add a mystic mood to the image.
And finally how can I light someone’s face under an umbrella? Ah using a simple speed light and a homemade rig to hold it under the umbrella was the answer!
What was this all for anyway? Practice! My belief is practicing the execution of concepts keeps me sharp and improves what I can offer clients and myself in creating imagery. For me it’s not about what gear I own. It’s how I use it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
- Lightning card reader (I bought this one)
- Lightroom CC or Classic (not the CC for iPad) For your office computer
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?!
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….)
- ADJ Products JR-CLAMP Stage
- Anderson Metals Brass Pipe Fitting, Barstock 90 Degree Elbow, 1/4″ x 1/4″ Female Pipe
- Two 8mm bolts. One 10mm long, the second 30mm long not fully threaded
- One 8mm nut
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.
UPDATE February 22 2018
During a client session they allowed me to experiment using my Elinchrom 69″ with focusing arm. Here are the results
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
So here is how I’ve used hard modifiers for different applications:
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.
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.
I recently created a dance session using a wide range of the Godox strobe system:
- Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS (4)
- Flashpoint Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead (3)
- Flashpoint eVOLV 200 (3)
- Flashpoint Zoom R2 Manual Flash (1)
- Flashpoint eVOLV Dual Power Twin Head (1)
- Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head (1)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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….
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE: June 22 2015
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…)
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…