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Category : On location

07 Jul 2018

Luna Cycle – Eric Hicks

I try to complete a personal project twice a year to stay sharp and exercise my creativity. I say ‘try’ because often my plans don’t happen due to client work. And as a small business if I don’t work, well I don’t eat so some year’s personal photo projects take a back seat to food. In the past I’ve focused on dance, as you can view on my Conceptual photo page. Tango and ballet have been my focus simply because I love the athleticism and art of dance. I have two long term projects which are currently in their fourth year; Our Perceptions, Ourselves” and “A Book by Its Cover” which are yet to be released.

In each of these cases I have known the individuals well prior to the shoot, have interacted with them on a regular basis and have befriended each of them. And the photographic elements created illustrate beauty in what I classify as its common form. But for this particular project I wanted to step outside of my own comfort zone and focus the project on people I don’t really know at all. And to capture beauty in a way that some may view as ‘nontraditional’ yet I view as gorgeous in a very different way. Two elements from which I will never vary for personal projects are; my love of visual storytelling and my passion for the subject matter.

Yet unlike my previous projects where I have a passion for the subject matter the talent performs (dance), in this case the subject matter is something I’ve done, riding/racing motorized two wheel vehicles. A huge difference….no one should ever see me dance!

I was drawn to Luna Cycle because I was intrigued with a product they import called the Sur Ron Light Bee which is an electric dirt bike manufactured in China. Luna is the exclusive USA distributor for the Sur Ron. I ended up buying one primarily due to Jackson’s video review of the Sur Ron’s build quality on Luna’s site. I then began to roam through Eric’s site to see more about the company and his products. I became intrigued about Luna Cycle more than the Sur Ron.

I’ve had the privilege to get to know some of the people who I view as geniuses in their fields; Paul C Buff of PCB and Steve Jobs when he worked for NeXT after being canned from Apple. What struck me about Eric from his YouTube videos is he seemed to possess the same drive, passion and determination of those men. And just like those two, he seemed to be a bit odd, out of the norm, the kind of mind and personality it takes to move an industry out from what has always been accepted as what’s ‘right.’

So I wrote an email to Eric giving him my pitch for an editorial photo shoot on the dates I had available and waited…nada. So the day before the final first day of my availability I wrote to him once again. I stated that since I had not heard back from him and airline fares are terrible booking the day before I was not going to make the trip and proposed that we could do it another time if he was interested.

In a very short time thereafter he wrote back to me and apologized for not responding sooner. He offered to cover my flight and lodging costs if I could still make it down to his El Segundo location for the shoot. So I booked my flights for the very next day and off I went on this adventure.

Upon arriving at the Luna Cycle location I recognized the area based on the YouTube videos where the staff and Eric demonstrate the speed of the Sur Ron against other much larger gas bikes. I rang the Nest Video Doorbell and waited….nothing. Yet as soon as I started to walk away I heard the door open and there was Eric. Just as he looks on video, crazy hair, intense eyes and those famous pajama pants, the kind my own kids harangue me about if I leave the house wearing them. After explaining that I really had to pee (I was actually going to search for a place around the outside of his building where I could piss) he offered me a cup of coffee from his way above my pay grade expresso machine. And that’s where the fun started….

As I began to look around the one of two warehouse/factories he operates I was simply blown away at the scale of the building in which we were standing. I really had no concept of what it takes to build or assemble ebikes so it was all new to me. In the middle of what I will call his ebike building is a large sectional couch which Ashley (his business and life partner) told me is where ‘Eric and I hang out’ along with a product photo ‘studio’ where an ebike was placed among some constant lights and a backdrop screen Eric built.

Eric explained to me that his first career was as a chess teacher and that he himself is a Chess Master. He went over his philosophy that ‘talent’ is not what he considers to be the key element in creating exceptional people, but rather hard work separates the wheat from the chaff. I agree with his theory since I’ve known a ton of ‘talented’ people who, because of a lack of effort let their skills go to waste. It was then I realized that just like my experience talking with Paul or Steve, Eric is EASILY distracted. Think “SQUIRREL!” and you’ll get the picture. Although I don’t classify him in the same category as these men, my friend David who is the Principal Horn for the Berlin Philharmonic is also easily distracted. We just call David Squirrel! LOL. I just think it’s the nature of the beast for people of this caliber, or so it seems to me. One of the staff members came over to ask Eric a question and I took that opportunity to fade away to meet other members of his team.

The first man I spoke with was Kyle, another person I recognized from the Luna YouTube videos. I was struck by how tall he is, well over six feet. I say this because as I saw both he and Jackson (who I met later but only briefly) sitting on the Sur Rons and it didn’t appear as tiny as it actually is in real life….odd. He’s responsible for quite a bit of the ebike assembly and testing of the Luna Cycle line. Prior to working at Luna he worked for Specialized and some other bike makers in the Bay Area. One hell of a nice guy who’s also very intelligent, he was a joy to speak with and get to know.

Then there is the logistics area where bikes/parts are prepared for shipment. It was one of my favorite places to shoot while I was there. I was so happy to use my SaberStrip v2.0 for these shots. If it weren’t for that modifier combined with the AD200 it would have been a real bitch to light!

Agustin who is the company’s do it all handyman!

Their kids were hanging out with mom so I had to do a family shot!

“Cut the shit with those fake photo smiles girl! Give me some love!”

Yeah now that’s the kinda smile I like.

She only looks serious….in real life she’s a pure peach….and she likes photography!

And then of course there’s Smudge Ball the company’s mascot. He was closely guarding the batteries!

Venturing across the parking lot to Luna’s other building felt I was going into a whole different world. This is where the actual manufacturing of the batteries and other hardware is conducted. The piece of equipment I was completely enchanted by is their laser cutter. It is massive and occupied a room just by itself and rightfully so. While I was there Eric and his team were cutting ½ inch stainless steel as if it were warm butter cut by a hot knife. This is where I had the opportunity to roam around and find little gems of discarded or in process parts I lit with the AD200 with the Fresnel head attached. And for me this is where the true beauty of a factory lives. “Seeing” through light is wonderful. Even more so that it is in and around epic light….a laser!

Eric kept asking me about the AD200s I was using.

Shoving an AD200 in these to light them from the inside out was fun.

 

The master as he operates his laser.

Showing Eric Mark’s “Photo Voodoo” where he watches the image fly through the air to my iPad from my 1DXII

The battery room

One of the interesting parts of this trip was discovering that Eric and Ashley share a very similar life path as I do with my partner Tracy. We both work in the very same industry, work together and live together. I don’t know many other (none actually) couples who can share time 24/7 without a homicide occuring! Oh sure just like me and T, Eric and Ash have ‘their moments.’ It just would not be natural to not, now would it? I consider them the Ying to my Yang. An older white guy with a young Asian gal versus and older Asian guy with a young white gal! Hahahahahaha!!!!!

And finally it would not be a Mark project without portraits.

Eric relaxing in his office playing chess on his PC.

What I discovered during this project is Eric has created a segment in the ebike market that has the potential to turn the market upside-down. Because of Eric’s innovation and ability to execute ideas into actionable forward thinking products he may become the leader in the market. I simply say ‘may’ because there are many other factors which come into play, as Steve or Paul can attest. Unlike Apple and their widely accepted consumer products, the ebike market is not a segment every person will want to join, it is a more specific market like Paul’s lighting segment. But just as Steve created the iPhone and Paul the monolight, Eric has the capability to create a never before seen ‘thing’ in the ebike market that we could not imagine, but afterward cannot imagine living without. Sounds familiar eh?

But in my mind the raw elements are there, an innovative mind, irreverence for the ‘norm’ and a work ethic like most can only imagine. I wish Luna the best and feel lucky to have been given a glimpse into his world.

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.

05 Jun 2018

Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Solar Power Station

OK so anyone who knows me KNOWS that I love haze/smoke/atmosphere for my personal project shoots. Heck even some of my clients are AWARE and ask me to add atmosphere to a shoot. The quality of light when you add particulate to the air and shoot light through it is delicious and magical. Anyway….

Although I don’t consider myself a survivalist per se, I do live in the San Francisco Bay Area – AKA earthquake territory. Yes I was here during the ‘89 Quake and it scared the shit out of me. Because of the desire for fried chicken on that fateful day my wife and infant daughter were not on the Cypress structure that collapsed and killed so many people. So I know that being prepared is the intelligent thing to do. I have a Yamaha 2000 gas generator, water purifiers, things to cook with and extra food. But for my photography purposes, I like to use my generator to power my Chavet smoke machine when there’s no power available, like in the middle of the Mohave Desert or on the Coast of California.

Using smoke on the California coast for a ballet session.

The final shot of Natalie.

Using smoke in the Mohave Desert for “Tango in the Mohave”

One of the final images of Pato and Eva.

Using smoke to add atmosphere in an alley in Seattle for my client 5th Avenue Theatre. This was one of the publicity images for the production of “Assassins

In my backpacking days I relied on my Suntactics USB solar charger made right near where I live! For such a small device I love its lightweight and high wattage output. I wrote a review on my experience using it on this blog. You can find it here.  But when I needed AC inverter plug in power that small solar charger just would not do. I’ve recently discovered that the National and State Park services frown heavily on the use of gasoline generators in forest areas. And with very good reason given the rash of horrid California fires. So I started to investigate solar power stations and decided to purchase the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 from my beloved Costco. These days there are very few brick and mortar shops I frequent, but Costco is one of them. And after doing some research I found that the GZ Yeti 1000 was 300 bucks less at Costco than anywhere else.

So I’ve tested the GZY1000 with my Chavet smoke machine and it works very well. When heating the Chavet pulls almost 1100 watts, well below the rating of the GZY1000. But since I tend to be practical I didn’t want a 1k machine just sitting around until I was on location so I started to figure out how to use it on an everyday basis. My partner and I own ebikes and ride them almost daily. We put about a thousand miles each on of our bikes annually. It’s just plain fun and we’d ride more if it wasn’t for work. This summer we plan on taking the bikes camping so we will need a way to recharge the packs. And many camping areas no longer allow gas generators….thank god. They’re noisy and people who are totally inconsiderate run them at shitty hours.

The Chavet smoke machine pulls about 1100 watts when heating and blowing out smoke. At 11am PST my two solar panels are inputting 127 watts.

My Chavet smoke machine.

Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase

Renogy 100 watt panel.

So I thought I would buy a solar panel, one that is easily transportable. I opted for the Goal Zero Boulder Briefcase 100 for my portable panel. But then Amazon (damn them) had a Gold Box deal on the Renogy 100 Watts Panel for $99.00 so I bought that one too! Much less expensive than buying the 200 watt GZ briefcase. I’ve installed both panels on my roof and hook them into my GZY1000 to power the things on my patio. That includes a water feature, my outdoor refrigerator, the patio bistro lights along with the power outlet station on my patio table. The GZ portable panel is mounted so that it can easily be removed from the roof and the Renogy is in a permanent position. I have a small hot tub and tried to power it with the GZY1000 and it does well UNTIL I power the jets to their highest level. Then the GZY1000 just shuts down, which is the safety feature. So for July I will see just how much PG&E (utility company) money I save by hooking just the hot tub to the unit and not using the highest jet setting.

I opted to install the Goal Zero Solar Charging Optimization Module which increases the solar and AC charging wattage. I’m not sure why GZ doesn’t just incorporate this into the unit. But it does increase the input of the solar and AC current.

Installing the Charging Optimization Module is straightforward and well designed.

If you’re looking for a solar power station I cannot recommend the Goal Zero highly enough. There are other units available, but for a much higher cost. For me the value of this unit is wonderful. Putting the unit to use daily makes much sense to me rather than just keeping it for emergencies or shoots. Besides some of the money I spent can be recovered by not paying PG&E!

24 May 2018

Flashpoint 600 on location – Antoine Hunter in CalArt’s Magazine “The Pool” Updated May 24 2018

UPDATE May 24 2018

CalArts has placed their entire Summertime Issue 2018 #3 online.

Original Post

In January 2018 the Editor of The Pool, an alumni magazine for the California Institute for the Arts contacted me about a feature they had planned for their 3rd edition of the publication. CalArts was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and performing arts. It offers Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees among six schools: Art; Critical Studies; Dance; Film/Video; Music; and Theater.

The publication wanted to feature one of their alumni – Antoine Hunter a deaf dancer, choreographer and educator. The editor informed me that Antoine had specifically requested that I create the imagery for his feature which prompted CalArts to commission me for the honored task. I met Antoine when he danced for Savage Jazz Dance Company of Oakland where I created publicity imagery for their troupe.

As with all creative endeavors my workflow was to meet with Antoine over coffee to discuss the mood he’d like to have for his imagery. Once we had our meeting I contacted the editor to discuss his wishes and we scheduled the session in and around iconic San Francisco landmarks. He wanted the imagery to reflect the majestic flavor of Antoine’s home. Beyond that, the artistic elements were left to my discretion which I always appreciate.

In March the editor flew up for the day and we began the session. Even though there was a chance of rain I was confident that the areas I had selected would be shielded from rain if it occurred. As luck would have it, it was a glorious day with wonderful clouds in the sky that I adore. Antoine brought his 6 year old daughter to the event along with his ASL interpreter. Even though we had not discussed shots of him and his daughter, I took them anyway as a memento of that day which he could have for his own memories. I too have kids and having imagery of them never gets old. In the end the magazine used one of the photos which I felt added much to his story. I’ve often found that the images created outside of an assignment are often used and enrich a story.

I didn’t expect the magazine to use this photo of Antoine. I took it and converted it to black and white out of my own preference. I’m really happy they chose to use it as the opening image for his article.

For all of the images I used a two Flashpoint 600s with extension flash heads to keep weight on the modifier end to a minimum. The modifier I used was a PCB Omni reflector which is my go to outdoor modifier. I had written a blog post about how I converted it to accept a Bowens mount. It is great in wind which is always a concern with my on location shoots. I planned to utilize two of these and had both with me during the sessions. All of the images were created using HSS between 1/1000th and 1/2000th of a second depending on my location and the sun’s intensity at the time. Generally the aperture was f2.8.

My plan was to NOT make the images appear lit, but balanced in natural light yet with a high production value. The only exception was when I created his portrait in a tunnel that is very darkly lit. In this instance I used two of the lights, one as a backlight to rim his figure and the other as a key light. The back light modifier was a simple 7 inch cone on a Flashpoint 600. The magazine ended up using that shot for the cover and I’m really pleased with the results.

I continue to be impressed with the performance, flexibility and quality of my 600 units, both as a monolight or  with an extension head. They are key to my work and the innovation in their ability to convert from a monolight to a pack/head or 1200ws head offers me options other manufacturers don’t offer  or match at the price point. I often chuckle when I read others who are so concerned about a 1/3 drop of power when using the extension heads. I guess increasing their ISO 1/3 of a stop doesn’t occur to them! LOL!!!! Some people will bitch about absolutely anything rather then spending their time on creating.

Gallery of images. Not all were utilized in the publication.

10 Apr 2018

OneEyeLand 2018 B/W Awards

I’m proud to have been named as a Finalist in the 2018 OneEyeland B/W awards under Nudes. I’m especially thrilled since Howard Schatz was one of the judges. I’ve LONG admired his work so I’m honored! My submission was one of the images I created for my “Tango in the Mohave” series with Eva and Patricio.

Tango in the Mohave

 

25 Feb 2018

On location with the AD200s and AD-B2s

I was asked to create some trombonist’s imagery for his upcoming Fall 2018 CD release. I’m not a fan of doing classical musician’s portraits simply because most of the time they just want a head shot with their instrument….YAWN! I often refer them to other photographers as I have little interest in that type of photography. But both the musician and his marketing director agreed to allow me the freedom to art direct the shoot so I agreed. 

Having worked with a number of symphonies I am well aware that there is a good natured (sometimes not so good natured!) rivalry between strings, percussion and brass players. So I thought that creating his portrait on the beach over a string instrument bonfire would be so appropriate and fun! Most important – it matches his personality! I had an old cello I had cut to photograph the interior for a different shoot years ago along with a prop violin that I was willing to burn. They flew into San Francisco from Nashville and we were off to the beach!

My decision for photography gear was to use my AD200s and the AD-B2s I own. Plenty of light and easily transportable since I had to lug all of the gear onto the beach. (I HATE lugging!) For the modifiers I used Aputure Fresnel heads as I love their focusing ability and those modifiers would match the style of light I wanted for the session. They’re also dead easy to gel and grid too.

How the scene appears just before sunset in natural light.

Quick light test before all the fun begins. His marketing person was going to eat all of the marshmallows before we began! She apparently LOVES them! 

It’s always fun to let the talent look at my iPad which is wirelessly tethered to my camera. I find it helps relax people as I’m setting up the session.

Yet another light test to ensure the marshmallows are well lit! Hahahahaha

Ah the smell of burning string instruments! What could warm a brass player’s heart more than that?

A fun shot for the back of the jewel case.

The AD200s mated to the AD-B2s are remarkable pieces of gear. So portable and so versatile. I love the flexibility they allow me both in studio and on location. Why not use my AD600s? I believe in using the right tool for the right job. The 600s would have been overkill from a power standpoint and much heavier to lug onto the beach.

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.

20 Oct 2017

Why I Love What I Do

For about 38 years I was a ‘suit.’ A pure corporate guy whose career started at the bottom and worked its way to COO of a Fortune 100 company. But now having been a small business owner running a full time commercial photography firm I can safely say that even if I had the chance, I’d never go back. I say that I photograph just to meet people and it’s true. My camera is just a convenient excuse to meet and befriend other artists.

One of my clients is a symphony in Dallas, TX. And over the years I have become friends with many of the musicians in the orchestra along with people in Marketing, Development and many other departments. Just recently I was tasked by the VP of Marketing to create an image of 90 of the musicians in the lighting style of the Dutch Masters paintings.

While doing so the two co concertmasters, Alex and Nathan began fooling around during a toast by intertwining their glasses and arms like newlyweds! Of course the whole orchestra HOWLED with laughter and no photographer would pass up that decisive moment to capture it on film. Ah the blackmail leverage I now possess!

Then during the creation of another part of the marketing collateral I was asked to do a portrait of several of the senior members of the orchestra.

But during that time two of the video team from Genius House Media were there filming their version of James Cordin’s “Carpool Karaoke” by having Alex, Nathan, Erin, Lydia and Kara ride through Dallas playing their instruments. So often there’s friction between photographers and videographers, but in the case of Adam and Darren from Genius House, they feel more like just collaborative creatives. I so enjoy working along side them when our work intersects I just had to create a photo of them goofing around.

My whole point to this post is this; what good is life without the camaraderie and companionship of other creatives? Like I said, my camera is simply an excuse.

01 Sep 2017

What inspires me

Lately I have been asked by a few people, “Mark what gives you inspiration for your shots?” Food inspires my work because when I view an image I’m creating I want to ‘taste‘ the deliciousness of the story, to feel satisfied, to actually smell the environment or mood with my eyes. I often listen to music and get inspired by the tones, the pauses, the crescendos of each passage. If all of this sounds like bullshit to you, well I don’t know how else to explain what inspires my work. I am also inspired by films; the lighting, the flavor, the moods, THE IMAGINATION brought to REALITY. I recently watched a BTS video of Game of Thrones, Beyond the Wall. At 2:22 in the video one of the creators explains why he likes to shoot on location. His statement is exactly the reason I prefer on location shooting to in studio work, especially for personal projects.  I bow to their creativity and ability to execute what is imagined. Whenever I hear people say “Oh I thought of that years ago…” I always laugh to myself and think, “Yet you didn’t ACTUALLY MAKE IT HAPPEN.”  And sure it’s always easy to say “Well if I had the kind of money GOT has then I could do that.” I often feel sorry for those who think that way….

So many forums/sites/people in photography or other endeavors talk on and on and on and on about gear. They can argue about which gear is ‘better’ in what almost seems like forever, just to ‘be right.‘ Gear has never been a motivating factor for me except when I was just starting out. Back then I thought, “Wow if I only had this camera/light/modifier, or had access to what the pros have….” I found that “if onlys” prevented me from actually DOING. For me inspiration is born from watching, tasting, listening, touching LIFE. And not necessarily things people would consider remarkable. Simple things like a smell, a taste, an expression, or an experience spark ideas that I want to create.

The reality is coming up with a concept, translating that concept into reality by developing all of the elements necessary is also one of the things that so inspires me. The planning, the ‘figuring out’ what to do, how to make it, what location I want to use, searching for that location, adding atmosphere, what kind of lighting, how will I overcome wind, do I want wind, what kind of flavors do I want to include in wardrobe? It goes on and on and on. And even the limitations are inspiring! It’s so easy to believe that if EVERYTHING is available, that there are NO RESTRICTIONS on what you hope to do, what you create would be possible.

REAL life is all about restrictions, limits and hurdles. For me they are the spices in the recipes for what I cook with my camera.

All of the final images I created on location below can be seen in my Conceptual Gallery.

Moments of Power, my shoot with three ballerinas from Dallas, TX took 8 months to plan. The first shoot was on a hand built driftwood structure, hauling a smoke machine, generator and numerous lights out to the beach. The police visited me due to the smoke and were relieved to see I was using a smoke machine. (I’m sure he was even more relieved to see three hot ladies during his shift as well)

I hired a woman in Texas to design and make the ballerina’s skirts for the session.

A makeup artist I regularly use was given the flexibility to create her version of “Black Swan” eye makeup for the first day’s session on the beach.

Eye makeup applied so the ladies are good to go!

Oh it was damn cold and windy out there. You can see poor Kaitlyn keeping her jacket on until the last minute before the camera work! What a trooper!

Right after her shots she asked “Can I have my jacket back please?”

The gals are treated to a great dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant after a very long day of shooting. “Uh Mark! You forgot to mention that you’re taking us to dinner WITH THIS MAKEUP ON YOU BASTARD!” LOL, yeah I had planned that too!

Day Two

I never knew how serious I look on location! Kaitlyn and Christy look over the shots I just took of Natalie on my iPad.

The low horizon sun was great for rim lighting Natalie, but hell for my assistant’s eyes!

One of Natalie’s final shots.

Inspiration comes from many different places for most people. In addition to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of my largest inspirations comes from the experiences I have with people. Sure I’m happy with the images, but what I remember are the interactions I have with the people I “cook” with and who invariably become close friends. And that is the most inspiring aspect of all.

25 Aug 2017

Traveling with STUFF

About 50% of my work takes me out of state for client work. I believe many people view that as ‘cool’ and in many ways it is. BUT hauling gear to and fro on airlines is NOT so COOL. Because of the number of miles I travel each year I have top status on several airlines which is a godsend. I’m allowed 3 bags free as is my partner so between us we can haul 6 fifty pound bags without being charged. And thank goodness! This does not include gear we rent on site either! 

Waiting for our hire car to pick us up at the end of a very long two days. Ah the glamorous life of living in an alley!

Yep a Parabolix Deep 35 using two eVOLV200s mounted into a Flashpoint AD-B2. One with a silicon cover. The two old USB receivers are so I can do HSS with my Pentax 645Z.

Pres eetup for a three light shot. 1 PCB 86″ umbrella, one Parabolix 35D and one Phottix Luna folding beauty dish with an eVOLV200 mounted into a Flashpoint AD-B2.

This was my first commercial shoot using Cheetahstand’s lantern. In this shot I’ve modified the lantern by cutting out an old umbrella so I can control spill when needed. I use wooden clothes pins to roll up the ‘curtain’ to my needs. I’ll be doing a full review later.

The most important thing on this table is my water bottle. I love ice water on set!!!!

  

Won’t be able to share any of the images from this shoot for about two months…NDAs….

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.

16 Jul 2017

Xplor/Godox – How it has changed my workflow

UPDATE January 26 2018

I’ve recently written a post about my use of the xPLOR600/eVOLV200s with several different modifiers for a session. You can find that post here.

UPDATE September 10 2017

I recently posted an article on my use of all Godox units in one session. The article includes the use of this product. You can view that post here.

UPDATE September 8 2017

In my post about the Parabolix 35D I have some of my recent client work and how I used the xPLOR/eVOLV units during the session.

UPDATE: July 29 2017

I have written an article about how I achieved using the Xplor/Godox 600 and 200 strobes in HSS with my Pentax 645Z. You can read that article here.

One of the Xplor/Godox 600 strobes using an 86″ PCB PLM modifier on top of a Flashpoint Junior Steel Wheeled Stand – 12′. Those stands were a lifesaver since I needed all 12 feet of height!

Prior to using the Xplor/Godox line of strobes I shot exclusively with PCB Einsteins. Paul’s t:1 performance combined with his Vagabond line of batteries, the Cybercommander controls were bulletproof. Combine that with his customer service and well….for me it was a winning combination. But with Paul’s unfortunate passing years back, PCB’s innovation has lagged behind other strobe/modifier manufacturers. I adored Paul and I was so fortunate to have him as a sponsor for a short time. In my mind he was a true genius and yes, a bit of an eccentric fella, but geniuses are so often an ‘acquired taste’ but thank gawd for them.

Paul’s Einstein line never included HSS so for my outdoor workflow I simply used ND filters of various brands and types when I wanted to reduce ambient light. Variable ND filters were convenient, but I found that the color shift took a bit of post processing to reduce. I did find nanotec’s ND filters to be the best for my needs, but by reducing the ambient it also reduced the power of my strobes.

So I was an early adopter of the Godox line of strobes starting with their 360 line, moving onto the Flashpoint Xplor600/AD600 line and finally to the eVOLV200 units I found my niche. Having all of the units that communicate from one trigger along with the flexibility of combining several strobe bodies to create higher WS output…..gosh what could be better? The innovation of Godox combined with the service in the US of Adorama or Cheetahstand is a wicked combination. There were two instances early on when I purchased Godox AD600s on eBay when I could not get any service. But when both Cheetahstand and Adorama started rebranding the Godox line under their own names, well customer service in the States changed for the better.

I certainly realize that every photographer’s needs are different and mine differ from job to job. Sometimes I may use only two lights, sometimes three and sometimes 7 or more. It always depends on what my clients want for the mood of the shot. By having the ability to combine two lights into one, or to change my Xplor strobes from a monoblock into a pack/head design is so innovative. I have read opinions that other shooter’s clients ‘insist’ on specifying brands of strobes/cameras/lenses, but I have never encountered that situation. My clients care primarily about these issues:

  • The concept of the shoot.
  • The quality of the image
  • Does the image convey the intended mood?
  • Will the image help sales?
  • Does my demeanor keep the talent engaged, thereby obtaining the expressions needed for the shot?
  • How easy am I to work with?

Not ONCE has a client asked me about what brand of gear I plan to use. Nor do they ask me about the brand/model of vehicle I own. Or the brand of clothing I wear. My client’s jokingly say “Oh Mark is using his little magic Instamatic..” whenever I decide it’s the right time to use my Fuji X100T. The reality is I find photographers seem more concerned about what other photographers feel/say about gear than how their clients feel about their product. In my business I’m only as good as my last session. And if my clients don’t like ALL ASPECTS of my work, then I’m not asked to return to shoot another session.

I had a client who I shot four years ago ask me to do another shoot for his cover band. I delayed answering simply because I felt they wanted a typical band shot, which I was not willing to do. As we talked he said “I want you to shoot whatever and however you want to do the shoot.” So we began. And in this case I knew I was going to use multiple lights of varying power, with multiple modifiers. And guess what? The Xplor/Godox line of lights could not have been a better combination. I literally used every Xplor/Godox light I own for this session. The smallest number of lights used at one time was four and the most was nine.

My whole point to this post is to say that the Xplor/Cheetahstand/Godox line of lights is the most valuable lighting system I’ve ever owned and used. In my mind innovation in lighting is moving much faster than camera bodies and I love that! Find what works best for your style of shooting.

For this job I needed to use both my Canon and Pentax. The XT32C on top of my 645Z is my favorite trigger.

My original Godox purchases,two 360s, yes the old original one that use their USB receivers plugged in. Like I said, for this session I needed all of the lights I own.

Shot with the 1200ws head that combines two 600s into one head. Shot through a gobo attachment using a window gobo.

Six light shot using Xplor 600s, eVOLV200S and 360s. Smoke was created using a smoke machine. Fans used to keep smoke off the faces of the talent.

Shooting groups is not easy and this one took seven lights to get right. Set needed to be illuminated without taking away from the focus of the talent.

Nine light shot. Thank god for those 12 foot stands! Finding the right set for this shoot was fun.

It’s all fun and games until one of the lead singer’s head starts smoking! LOL. Using smoke is great, but it CAN be a royal pain in the ass too…..

10 Jul 2017

2017-18 Season Brochures

My clients have released their season brochures so I can now share the final results along with a short BTS video of the Hillbarn session. All of the images were shot using the Flashpoint Xplor 600 and Evolv 200 line of strobes using various modifiers and gels. All shot with a Pentax 645Z utilizing a 45-85mm MF lens.

Hillbarn Theatre

Brochure Cover

One Xplor600 and one Evolv200 used in this shot.

Second curtain sync used with the Xplor 600. Two light shot.

Five light shot with various gels. Smoke machine used for atmosphere.

Village Theatre

 

22 Sep 2016

Adorama’s Flashpoint XPLOR 600 TTL Review

UPDATE January 26 2018

I’ve recently written a post about my use of the xPLOR600/eVOLV200s with several different modifiers for a session. You can find that post here.

UPDATE October 20 2017

My client has incorporated some of my publicity imagery into their marketing campaign. All images were lit using Godox/xPLOR600 lights.

UPDATE October 19 2017

The most challenging lighting I’ve done to date was to recreate the Dutch Masters type lighting for a client with 90 musicians, props and instruments on stage. I used four xPLOR/Godox 600s to successfully light the scene. You can read that post here.

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.

UPDATE September 10 2017

I recently posted an article on my use of all Godox units in one session. The article includes the use of this product. You can view that post here.

UPDATE: July 29 2017

I have written an article about how I achieved using the Xplor/Godox 600 and 200 strobes in HSS with my Pentax 645Z. You can read that article here.

UPDATE July 17 2017

I recently wrote an article about using all of my Xplor/Godox lights in one shoot including the eVOLV200s. You can view that post here.

capture

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.

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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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30 Oct 2015

High Bridge Arms, SF – RIP

Today, Friday October 30 2015 is the day the last remaining gun store in San Francisco closes. My long time friend Steve Alcairo has been the store manager for the last six years. His staff has consisted primarily of former Armed Forces personnel and his client base is in large part members of the SFPD.

I created these portraits of his staff on the second to last day they were in operation to thank him for his friendship as well as his staff’s devotion to safe and legal sales in the area.

31 Jul 2015

BTS Video with Avant Chamber Ballet

A behind the scenes video of my on location sessions with Avant Chamber Ballet in Dallas, TX for their 2015-16 season announcement publicity imagery. Created by my partner Tracy Martin.

26 Jul 2015

On Location with Avant Chamber Ballet

In May 2015 I was asked to photograph the Avant Chamber Ballet in Dallas, TX. ACB is the only truly Dallas based chamber ballet. Their Artistic Director, Katie Cooper resides in Dallas and has turned the ballet community on its ear with her innovative and critically acclaimed ballet creations. Katie Puder (Cooper) danced for years with Arlington’s well-respected Metropolitan Classical Ballet. One of the many aspects which sets ACB above other dance companies is their use of live world class orchestra musicians in their performances. Many are working musicians with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which is a double plus. We work regularly with them on both production and publicity imagery for their marketing campaigns.

MKitaoka_150601_9614-Edit-Edit

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12 Jun 2015

Rovelight HSS and the Godox/Adorama Streaklight 360s

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. I still highly recommend the Streaklight 360.

UPDATE June 16 2015

I had the opportunity to use both the Flashpoint 360 and Rovelight in combination today during an on location dance session. I again ran into inconsistent firing of the Rovelight with the CellsII-C HSS trigger. I have yet to determine the root cause of this inconsistent misfiring outdoors. In studio they perform better than outdoors even at moderate distances.

Streaklight 360 with a Bowens Maxlite 8" modifier.

Streaklight 360 with a Bowens Maxlite 8″ modifier.

Original Article

I recently had the opportunity to utilize a pair of Adorama Rovelights as well as a Godox AD360 and a Adorama Streaklight 360 bare bulb strobe on a commercial assignment. All four of the units are capable of High Speed Sync (HSS) when triggered by a CellsII-C trigger

My assignment was to create imagery of ballet dancers in and around the Dallas area. The art direction conveyed to me was to place the ballerinas in recognizable venues in the Dallas area. In order to achieve imagery with production value required me to shoot at higher than normal sync speeds to greatly reduce the ambient light. For all of these shots I utilized my Canon 5DIII rather than my 1DX to obtain the maximum resolution since the images will be used for posters with an option to create billboard size media materials. I would have liked to use my Pentax 645Z MF camera, but at that time HSS options were not available. As recently as June 10th 2015 I discovered a possible solution to the 645Z’s slow sync speed, but have not yet tested these units. Alex Munoz has done extensive testing on the Priolite strobes which seem very promising

One of the fantastic benefits of using Rovelights with the variety of 360 bare bulb flash units is the ability to use one triggering system, the CellsII-C. As illustrated in the photo below placing the Rovelight’s trigger on the hot shoe of the CellsII-C allows simultaneous triggering in HSS of both the Roves and the 360’s.

CellsII-C trigger which allows HSS with the Rovelight trigger attached to its hotshoe.

CellsII-C trigger which allows HSS with the Rovelight trigger attached to its hotshoe.

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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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