For five years I have photographed 5th Avenue Theatre’s High School Musical Awards. Teens from all over are invited to this event and the sheer volume of thousands of teenagers in one building rivals a SpaceX takeoff! Most of the workers wear earplugs…and I’m not joking. My partner is assigned to photograph the event from inside of the house, while I’m assigned the backstage area….my favorite.
Before becoming a full time pro shooter I got into this whole thing to chronicle my daughter’s work as a stage crew member in high school. I had little money while raising two kids, so I went onto eBay and bought myself a Casio point and shoot. As I wandered around the backstage area I came to appreciate the work and passion the ‘crew’ has for putting together a production. Those jobs are far from the glamor of the footlights and follow spots. So because of that I have a real soft spot for the crew and those who make it possible for the talent in front of the curtain to pursue their passions.
The energy and excitement behind the scenes is infectious. I’ve been honored and blessed to be able to move around freely backstage. So many of the people who work BTS I now know having worked with each of them on different shows. One of the most moving things that happened to me that night was when David said to me in such a sincere and warm way “Mark, thank you so much for doing this for us.” I simply said “You’re welcome” but thought to myself that I should be thanking him for being instrumental in my ability to know all of these folks.
So here are some of my favorite photos from backstage during the 2017 HSMA’s. The two shots, one of the group and one of the young man who played in the Music Man were portraits I just had to create backstage. I had brought my one strobe to use prior to the event and at the end of the event. I just HAD to use it to light these kids for a portrait. I know all of the kids who attend the 5th’s HSMA will carry these wonderful memories for the rest of their lives. I know I will too.
For both of these portraits I told the kids “No smiling! Give me ATTITUDE like you give your folks! LOL! And you can tell them when they see the shots the photographer told you to do that.”
My shots often appear in print, but today was special and unusual. On the front page of the Seattle Times, my publicity image for Village Theatre’s 2017-18 Season Brochure appears above the fold. Then two of my publicity shots for 5th Avenue Theatre’s world premier of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion – the Musical appears in the entertainment section. Fun!
For the past five years I have had the privilege to photograph OSA’s Dance Emphasis. The high school young people under the leadership of Reginald Ray-Savage and Alison Hurley are incredible. The images in this gallery are from their May 26 2017 dance concert. Once or twice a year I conduct in studio dance photography sessions, but these images were all taken from their latest production.
I ride my Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC almost every day. I don’t have a ‘daily commute’ so I ride for pleasure or for errands. That includes fire roads with steep hills, paved paths and street riding to do errands. Sometimes I need navigation to assist me so I use Google Maps which has a bicycle feature which takes me on routes I’ve never done in a car. Well Duh Mark of course since I’m on a bike. I searched long and hard for just the ‘right’ mounting unit for my cell phone (a Galaxy S7 Edge) to mount to my bike’s handlebar stem. You see I want my unit in the landscape position and most of the cell phone mounting solutions are for your handlebar and in the vertical position. I’m not using my phone for anything other than navigation on my bike. Here’s what I found is the best for my needs, a Sahara Sailor Phone Bike Mount. It fits perfectly on a head stem and holds a phone very securely. I highly recommend this unit.
I never mean to be an early adopter, but tend to be so with new strobes. Lighting is developing much more rapidly than cameras or lenses. But this is about a new passion of mine, riding my ebike, a Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC. Ebikes are new to the US and relatively unknown, yet are popular in Europe where using any type of bicycle for transportation is mainstream. I began my interest two years ago when I noticed a Kickstarter campaign for an eMTB called the Flx bike. At 1399.00 USD it was ‘affordable’ enough to interest me, yet since I had been burned by two crowd funding campaigns I was not excited enough to commit 1400 bucks with the chance I would not get shit. You should know that they have delivered on their product and many of their owners are thrilled with the product.
In the Fall of 2016 I was vacationing in one of my favorite locations, Avila Beach, CA. Across from my hotel is Pedego Avila Beach which is an electric bike dealership. Upon entering the store Glenn, the owner asked if I had ever ridden an ebike. When I replied “No” he said “Well we’re gonna change all of that..” and immediately put me on a Haibike hard tail mountain bike. Just outside of his storefront are two hills just like those in San Francisco. As soon as I began peddling up the hills I WAS SOLD. A mid drive, centrally mounted battery made the Haibike feel just like a normal bike, but with power that made me feel like Lance Armstrong with blood doping to the max! So I told myself that I would buy one right away.
Upon returning home to the Bay Area I found a local dealer, Motostrano in Redwood City. So I purchased my bike from Joe at Motostrano since he was running a killer sale in December. In March of 2017 I had saved enough money by quitting smoking that it paid for my Haibike Fullnine RC!
You can read all about ebikes online by searching along with all of the haters calling ebikes “Cheaters.” But just like all things such as ATM cards, snowboarding, digital cameras, chairlifts (yes there was a time when you had to WALK UP THE HILL to ski), ABS braking, etc. humans always resist what is ‘new’ and out of the ordinary. It’s really all about fear, fear of change fear of the unknown, fear of something new. So often it’s negative talk from those who feel they are the ‘purists’ like skiers who didn’t want to share the hill with new snowboarders, film photographers who felt and still feel digital photography lacks ‘soul’ or now mountain bikers who feel eMTBs are ‘cheaters’ and ‘bad for the trails.’ Hell I remember when Brownie Instamatic film cameras were shunned by ‘real photographers’ because the new little film cameras did everything for you including exposure! Hahahahaha. Fuck haters. They usually want to ‘keep’ their domain all to themselves and elite.
I love riding my ebike simply because it’s so much fun. I’ve raced motorcycles both on and off road all of my life. No my ebike does not have a throttle nor do I want it to have one. I have to pedal and I love that. So much so that I find excuses to ‘go somewhere’ or run an errand just to get on my ebike. Yes I’ve had a traditional mountain bike before, but rode it much less often than I do my eMTB.
I’ve given up trying to explain to people how it feels. In my crude manner I compare it to trying to explain to someone what a fantastic orgasm feels like. Go ahead; try to explain that, the FEELING of one. It’s the same about an ebike; the feeling is something that makes me smile every single time I ride. When I first got a digital camera off eBay I rediscovered the Bay Area by going to places with new eyes. On my ebike I ride to places I’ve been many times, but with a new outlook. I do Costco runs with my bike, I pack a dinner and go for a dinner ride with my girlfriend. I run errands like going to the bank, the hardware store, the donut shop on my ebike. It’s a complete joke and when my doctor asks “How often do you exercise?” and I have to remind myself that I do so every single day. I don’t think about riding 12-20 miles a day as exercise because like having a great orgasm it’s such a great feeling! (Not to worry, an orgasm is still better, but you get the point about having to feel something to KNOW)
Picking the right ebike is up to each individual. Renting one or several in your area or attending an ebike convention where you get to ride various models is the key. There are plenty of “Meet Ups” where people who love/own/are curious about ebikes gather just like photography meet ups. I’ve never been a ‘meet up’ kinda guy, but they are damn valuable for many people. I can simply say that I’ve never had anything in my life that is so much fun and enjoyable that I can do WHENEVER AND WHEREEVER I WANT TO DO SO. Not having to load my race bike on a truck or trailer, driving to the track, get fuel, etc. Sure those days were a complete blast, but the quiet joy of riding through neighborhoods, up in the hills, around town is so simple and sweet. One of the things I’ve missed about racing motorcycles is the ‘wrenching’ and although it’s on a MUCH more simple level with my ebike, it brings back some of that fun.
I don’t have a ‘commute’ per se since my job has odd hours and I often am on an airplane. But if I did have to commute and it was 10-20 miles each way I’d definitely use my ebike to go to and fro. Not showing up to work sweating because I’ve bucked a headwind or up hills to work is epic. More importantly, it’s just fun.
The questions I’m most often asked:
- Do you have to plug it in? – Yes to recharge the battery
- How far will a full charge allow you to go? – It depends, on High, into high wind or up steep hills maybe 20-30 miles. In Eco mode on flat ground probably 70 miles
- Does peddling recharge the battery? – No
- Do you need a license? – No
- Does it have a throttle? – No, not this one, but some ebikes do have a throttle.
- How long does it take to charge? – I’ve never drained mine completely so I cannot say. When my battery has been down to 30% it has taken about 1.2 hours to fully recharge.
- Where is the engine? – It’s attached to the crank on this model.
- Can you recharge the bike on solar power? – No
- Does the bike come with a headlight and taillight? – No I installed those myself.
I recently changed the mounting of my M99 Pure. Why? Well because I wanted to bring the headlight closer into the bike in the event of a crash. Also I wanted a longer stem to bring my riding position a bit more forward. So in searching online I found that none other than Supernova offers two stems that extend the reach of my arms to the handlebars but also offers an elegant mounting solution for the M99 headlights! The Promax 90 is the one I purchased. Installation is a snap and I could not be more pleased with the mounting solution for the M99 headlight as well.
Someone had asked me on a bike forum if I could compare the Supernova lights to others on the market. I thought a better comparison is how they compare to car headlights/taillights. So here is a side by side comparison made during dusk.
I wanted to update my post regarding Supernova products. After installing their M99 Pure on my Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC I decided to purchase one of their E3 Taillights. Since none of the US retailers had the blue color I opted to buy directly from Supernova in Germany. I was fully prepared to wait a while for shipping/customs/etc but to my pleasant amazement the items were delivered in four days from Germany to the Bay Area in California via UPS’s international service!
I’m old school and like to work on things myself for two reasons. First there is a satisfaction I get installing or working on my gear and second I know the job will be done to my satisfaction. (most of the time…LOL) Like so many others I had chosen to purchase aftermarket battery powered lights for my bike, both the headlight and tail lights. Since my girlfriend’s Haibike Trekking came with a headlight and taillight installed so she could simply use the light keypad on the Sduro line I was envious. It was then I decided I was tired of recharging different lights on my ebike (with its own friggin battery!) and took the plunge. Installing the M99 Pure on my ebike was straightforward. But installing the tail light was different.
I had installed a Thule Pack and Pedal rack on the back of my eMTB so that I can carry different items. I had to fabricate a mount for the tail light and ascertain how to route the wires from the motor through the frame and then integrate it into the rack.
Original Article on the M99 Pure
Why is Mark posting an article about a flippin ‘ebike light’ when his site is about photography!!???? Well because life isn’t just about photography and after all this is my blog and I can write about whatever I want! LOL. In truth I tend to be an early adopter of ‘things’ having to do with light. Photographic strobes in particular and now ebike lights. I had researched ebikes for a year and a half before ever riding one. They intrigued me since I’ve raced motorcycles all of my life, first motocross and then closed course racetracks. But alas age caught up with me and rather than endangering the lives of my fellow racers I decided to hang up my leathers and knee sliders….sigh.
Once I actually rode an ebike at Pedego Avila Beach I was SOLD. And not the throttle kind but the power assisted pedal type. (you must pedal) I ended up purchasing my bike locally at Motostrano in Redwood City, CA. Joe, the owner along with his primary mechanic Luis are good fellas. Of course after getting my bike I wanted to add some things like a rear rack for a full suspension bike (not easy) and some lights since I like to ride off road at night. (and on the street too)
Apparently there are two schools of thought on lights for bikes; those who use a light primarily to be seen and those who use lights to SEE at night. I am from the latter school although I also want to be seen too. For a headlight several items were MUST haves for me:
- The ability of the headlight to use my ebike’s battery as its source of power. I didn’t want to have to charge another light for my bike
- Being able to use the light button on the Sduro’s existing control pad to turn the light on and off
- The ability to bolt the light onto my bike rather than having a rubber or silicon band holding the unit to the handlebars
- Most important, a wide and bright beam pattern of light. Not a pinpoint light.
Searching online through Amazon and other sources produced a wide selection of bike lights. Some 1600 lumen, but all of those used an external battery pack. Some had separate diffusion lenses to spread the light. What I found that matched my needs/wants was the Supernova M99 line of lights built in Germany specifically for ebikes. Being light greedy I first purchased a M99 Pro from Joe which puts out 1600 lumens using its high beam. But I failed to read the fine print to determine the voltage the Sduro line of bikes output for lights from the built in wiring. The Pro must have 24v minimum to work. I called Yamaha America to find out what voltage their Sduro line of bikes output is and they didn’t even know Yamaha USA has a electric bike motor! Since Haibike is produced in Germany but USES Yamaha motors (along with Bosch) Yamaha USA has no information. So I ran my own voltage test on the Sduro’s light line output controlled by the built in switch; the output is 6v DC. So I exchanged the Pro version of the M99 for the Pure version which is rated at 6v. (BTW Supernova responded to me that none of the current Sduro line will work with the M99 Pro)
The Supernova M99 Pure works FLAWLESSLY on my Haibike Sduro! The light pattern is just what I wanted, bright and wide much like my former street motorcycles on low beam. The correct way to mount to unit is parallel to the ground since Supernova’s design points the main beam of light downward as to not blind oncoming viewers. It automatically changes from daytime running lights (ala Audi’s LED running lights) to regular headlight when going through a tunnel or when it becomes dark. If you’re worried that the headlight doesn’t activate until it’s too dark, not to worry, it’s engineered to come on well before it gets too dark. I’ve only had it installed for two days and the power drain on my battery is null. And the best part is the illumination and beam pattern. Nice and wide.
I write this because ebikes are relatively rare in the USA right now and reviews of the Supernova line are even more scarce. And yes they’re expensive…..but that’s OK for a headlight that ticks all of my requirements.
I’m proud to have been chosen as a Finalist in the 2016 One Eyeland Awards for my series Moments of Passion. A series of tango photographs in the Mohave Desert I created in November of 2016 with professional Argentine Tango dancers Patricio Touceda and Eva Lucero.
Click here for the entire listing of winners.
UPDATE: February 18 2017
Today I ran an eight hour studio session for a client’s upcoming season brochure. I was able to use the Flashpoint Junior Steel Wheeled Stand – 12′ for an entire day. I should explain that this day involved shooting seven different scenes with different talent for each, so moving lights around was constant. I will simply say that the stand performed FLAWLESSLY and I will not hesitate to purchase another and another. The wheels are incredible and roll over extension cords with ease. Granted none of my strobes use cords, but my smoke/haze machines/wind machines do! These stands are highly recommended for its performance and value. Be forewarned these are not sissy stands, they’re heavy and beefy, use them in studio only!
In December 2016 I was searching for a portable printer and discovered on Amazon a small printer called the PickIt. What attracted me beyond its size was that it used dye sublimation rather than ink jets to produce the image. In my former life I used dye sub to print marketing materials so I was impressed that such a small unit used the same technology.
On December 2, 2016 tragedy struck not only the Bay Area, but my family when the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland claimed the life of 36 young adults. One of them was Jenny Morris who just turned 21 and was the former girlfriend of my son. Jenny and my son dated for about 18 months, but had ended their relationship almost a year prior to the tragic fire. In many ways I feel blessed that my son did not perish in that fire. Had he and Jenny still been a couple I’m positive he would have been at the event and perished along with the other young adults.
I have decided to add a small travel review section to my blog. I travel extensively for client work and sometimes find hidden nuggets on my journeys. I should say that when I was ‘a suit’ in the corporate world I was able to travel well, first class air travel (prior to 9/11 and when airlines served real food), hotels like The Plaza in NYC, the Hay Adams in Washington DC, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City, the list goes on and on. I listed some of the places I’ve stayed not to brag, but to give some reference to my point of reference. Staying on an expense account is very different than paying on my own dime.
Throughout my life other men I’ve known often talk about “The Unicorn” which in my circles means a woman who like the mythical horned creature exists only in fantasy. Too good to be true, too wonderful for reality yet an entity we all wish and hope is true.
Three years ago I was hired by a ballet company in Dallas, TX to create some promotional imagery for their troupe. It was at that time I met Christy. A bubbly positive young lady who like her fellow dancers is incredibly athletic and talented. I’m fortunate to meet so many talented artists and at first Christy fell right into that category to which I’ve become so accustomed. And believe me, I know I live a charmed and blessed life.
UPDATE: November 21 2016
I shot with the 1200ws head during an on location tango shoot in the Mohave desert. The unit performed flawlessly and gave me the ability to do things that would have been difficult or impossible with only a 600ws head. The innovation and flexibility Godox/XPLOR offers photographers is excellent.
Each year I photograph the dance department at the Oakland School of the Arts, or OSA as most of the students lovingly call it. Their Dance Emphasis department is headed by Reginald Ray-Savage along with Alison Hurley. Equipment used: 2 Adorama Xplor 600, Godox AD600, 2 H600 remote heads, 1 CononMark 120cm inverted octa bank, 1 PCB Omni reflector, 1 Bowens Maxlite reflector, Canon 1DX Mark II.
I had watched an excellent video review by Shoms Photography about the Godox XT32C trigger. Two primary reasons prompted me to purchase and try the trigger. First and foremost he mentioned that his favorite trigger is the PCB CyberCommander and to date I too have yet to find a better transmitter. Now IF YOU plan on trying to argue with me ‘to be right’ like a forum troll, don’t bother. I’ve used transmitters from almost every major player and in six years of using strobes professionally I have yet to find a better transmitter for my purposes – period. The second reason is my first Godox transmitter was their FT16 which in my usage was a bullet proof and very reliable and simple transmitter. I felt that the new XT32 seemed to be the same in terms of simplicity compared to the X1 units I’ve been using for HSS and Second Curtain Sync. The XT32 is not ETTL capable, but I’m not a TTL user, so no big deal.
I started as a suit, a corporate climber, chaser of money, hopeful head of a corporation. Two kids later with college looming I got stuck in my own golden handcuffs as COO for a Fortune 100 company. The kids grew as did the tuition and careers as industries changed for me. But I always remembered the days in high school where I took portraits of young women to meet young women and the tactile feeling and smell of developing my own photos remained hypnotic. And then one day after the kids had graduated I was called into my bosses’ office and told “My position had been eliminated.” So at 50 I decided that there was no way I was going to interview with 30somethings and be asked “What is your five year plan?” Answering “Fuck You” would not be conducive to getting a job, so I opted to man up and begin my career as a pro photographer for the arts.
Why the arts? As a suit I encountered people who pretended to be someone else. In the arts I met people who were themselves but whose job was to play other people. And the reality of why I love photography is not the shot, it’s the people. Actors, musicians, script writers, dancers, acrobats the list is endless. And did ‘they’ enter their careers to chase money? Not at all, they entered their world for the simple love of what they do with others who love what they do. And in return I not only get to do what I love to do, but with people who I adore. Do I miss Direct Deposits, vacation time/health benefits? Those facets can be planned and bought. What I get now can only be earned with passion and love.
About the only online forum I check with regularly is on Flashhavoc.com. Why? Because the members there are civil and interested in helping one another unlike 99% of the other forums where most of them are trolls and ‘have to be right.’ One of the members, Randell John asked a question of the membership inquiring if anyone was experiencing misfires using the Flashpoint Portable Extension Head 600 versus the AD600. (Please note that throughout this review I use AD600 or H600 as a generic term. Currently Cheetahstand and Adorama are the only US retailers who carry the AD600/H600, but under their own brand names. And as of this writing Adorama is the only US retailer to carry a TTL version.) I had just completed an on location ballet shoot and could not recall having issues. So I called my son to see if he recalled any issues and the reality is the only time we used the H600 was during our last session at the ocean. I did recall that the strobe failed to fire, but only a few times. So I decided to conduct my own test to see if there is indeed a difference. I depend on excellent radio to strobe signal and plan to use the remote heads and Xplor/AD600 units for an upcoming studio dance shoot next week. So being confident in the gear is paramount.
All of the testing was done indoors at 45 feet from camera to strobe with complete line of sight from camera trigger to strobe. Camera used was a Canon 1DX Mark II. A Godox X1C trigger was used for all H/AD600 lights. A PCB CyberSync trigger and CSXCV transceiver used on the Einstein. So I could do other things like watch TV I used my intervalometer to trigger the camera. Although I had it set for 199 frames in some instances it took less than that with the lowest count being 180. Below from low to high are my results:
I’m an early adopter on lighting gear. Always have been. And like all early adopters I run into the quirks and problems associated with early development of gear. I always test gear before I use it commercially, but sometimes my testing is not exhaustive enough to anticipate every situation. And as any working pro knows, something ALWAYS goes wrong on every shoot no matter how much you plan. It’s just part of the deal.
I was one of the first adopters of PCB’s Einstein 640ws strobes. Excellent t1 performance in a small package was enough for me. I’ve used Einsteins for over 7 years exclusively in studio from the time they were released. When Adorama released their Flashpoint 600ws Rovelight I was intrigued. Rather than having to haul an Einstein and a Vagabond II, the CyberSync triggers on location the Rovelights have a built in battery and receiver. So I bought several, tested them and took them out on a commercial shoot. I ran into issues during that shoot with the trigger’s lack of range. I wrote an extensive evaluation of them and complained with others to Adorama. An friend of mine (NASA!) who is an electrical engineer dismantled the transmitter and showed me the issue which caused the poor range. In the end I sadly returned all of my Rovelights to Adorama. Subsequent to the trigger issues Adorama had them redesigned and developed a RMA program to replace the original triggers to early adopters. As a working pro warranties and customer service are key. It’s one of the reasons I stayed with PCB for so long, excellent customer service. The fact that Adorama took the initiative to replace triggers is one of the reasons I respect them. I respect those that DO much more than those that SAY.
This post is about the people rather than the picture. Sure I’m a professional photographer and make my entire living shooting for clients, so of course I have to produce imagery! But the primary reason I chose to do this for a living is to meet interesting and authentic people.
Unlike work for clients, my personal work gives me complete freedom to art direct and create imagery that fits my vision. When shooting for clients those images must fit what they have as a vision for their product. My ability to season the mood of their images depends on each individual client. Some allow me more input than others, but by continuing to do personal projects it keeps me fresh with new ideas and concepts. After 39 years of being a ‘corporate suit’ this is the vocation I chose to do for the remainder of my working days. So I keep my creative mind fresh by continuing to create personal work. The day I find that the artistic satisfaction has left me and it’s ‘just a job’ I just won’t do this anymore. Clients automatically benefit because the ideas I try in my personal work often get used in my professional work. A win/win if you ask me….