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Category : On location

26 Mar 2019

Creating a Concept

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 warehouse setup. Just out of frame camera left is my strobe used to illuminate the chandelier using a PCB Retro Laser modifier. Sadly no longer made.

Getting a sense of the correct height for the chandelier. “Close your eyes while I test the light!”

This octa modifier was used to simulate light coming down from the chandelier which appears to illuminate her. I moved it so that a shadow would be cast down from her tutu.

My ballroom shot. Two key lights stacked. A Fresnel and the octa. One produces a hard light/shadow, the other a softer filling light. Stacking modifiers is one of my favorite techniques.

Chandelier lowered and smoke added for atmosphere to give a different mood.

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.

Balancing the lights.

OOPS! Mark that’s a tad too much smoke! LOL

The ‘spotlight’ shadows are spot on here.

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!

Not nearly as attractive as Jeannette, her father graciously helps me test my contraption!

And it worked just as I had hoped it would.

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.

04 Mar 2019

Combining Tools

I know there are a ton of online sites that show specific lights/cameras/etc. along with their specs and such. I wanted to write this post about combining all of the tools we all have at our disposal to create an image. FIRST AND FOREMOST the paramount factor in my shooting is NOT the gear, but the concept. Of course the right gear makes my job easier, but without a solid concept and how to execute that concept, no amount of cool gear matters in my world. My clients come to me looking for several solid concepts to create for a final image. Most have ‘some‘ ideas, but they are depending on me to flesh out their ideas. The two most valuable assets I can provide to them are the final concepts and the talent’s expressions. Authentic expressions can’t be created in post processing.

Testing all six strobes prior to the actual shoot along with the smoke machine. Smoke is great, but just like all things organic, you CANNOT control where the wind blows! LOL

I wanted to share the video my partner created as I was shooting the promotional materials for a small theatre company’s production of “Heathers.” This video shows in detail how the shoot was created for the client. BTW I always shoot wirelessly tethered to my iPad using the Canon WFT-E6A (replaced by the WFT-E8A) through Shuttersnitch. Both the client and I then know when the shot has been achieved and we can then move onto the next shot. Much more efficient for me than taking a break to show the talent and client things on the back of my camera. I still do that when needed, but it is much more the exception rather than the rule.

In the video the constant key light modifier was a Glow EZ Lock Quick Octa powered by a Westcott SKYLUX 1000 Watt LED Light.

Here are the items I used AFTER scouting a location for the shoot and conveying my concepts to the client:

Using battery powered equipment is key to my on location shoots. Wireless everything has been a godsend in the last 12 years. No more cords which were replaced with remote triggers, remote control over strobes…wow. The only reason I used a generator was to power the smoke machine. In those instances where gas generators are not allowed I use a Goal Zero Yeti 1000 solar generator for my smoke machine when called for in a shoot.

I selected the Ego Power leaf blower because it has variable power, not stepped power. During those times when I need to have a wind machine I need the ability for my assistants to either subtlely or forcefully use wind. As of this posting I cannot show the actual publicity shots the client will use, but can display shots they have opted not to use for the promotion.

What will be of interest is the video my partner Tracy Martin created for the client which has been released. My point of this post is to help others in displaying how combining all of the tools now available to photographers is only limited by your imagination.

Four strobes in various positions including to illuminate the smoke. Key light using the PCB Omni reflector. It’s great in wind and produces the quality of light I wanted.

Six strobe shot.

Six strobe shot.

If you can’t have fun in an on location shoot, what fun is that?!

19 Feb 2019

Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head

February 18 2019

I recently used the Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head attached to an AD200 during a professional tango shoot. I like the modeling lamp in the head and find it brighter than the stock Fresnel head in the AD200. I used the light with a ‘voice activated light stand’ (a human) in this instance. Because the Argentine Tango dancers were moving freely a normal light stand just would not be the best tool for the job. Plus the room was filled with haze and the rays of light coming through the doorway made balancing light a challenge. 

A haze filled room with rays of light coming through the open door was magical.

The quality of light produced by the Round Flash head is very very nice. I won’t ever hesitate to use it when it’s the right tool for the right job. And in this case it was.

13 Jan 2019

Glow EZ Lock Quick Softbox (25″) – Update January 13 2019

Update January 13 2019

I purchased the 36″ version of this modifier based on my experience with the 25″ model. I’m not sure if manufacturing has changed, but the 36″ model’s snaps which hold the inner diffusion panel are of less quality than my 25″ model. They are EXTREMELY difficult to remove once they are snapped into place on the modifier. So much so that removing them is very difficult and one of them pulled the mating snap off of the modifiers. I now use a binder clip to hold that part of the diffusion panel in place.

Be aware that the modifiers may be of a different manufacturing level when purchasing these.

Original Post November 26 2018

I was recently asked by a client to create a portrait of one of their executives that will appear in a magazine article. They let me know only one day before my flight. This was a surprise since my trip was originally scheduled to fly up for a production shoot. This meant I had no plans to haul any strobes or modifiers up on my airline trip. So in order to keep my luggage small I opted to take my Glow EZ Lock Octa Small Quick Softbox for Speedlite (25″) along with my Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head as my lighting gear.

I really like how small the EZ Octa folds down. It fit so well into my suitcase and hardly took any space at all. Because the modifier is relatively small, I knew I would have to place the light close to the talent. I rarely use modifiers smaller than 39″ as my key lights, but in this case opted to use the 25″ due to packing space. I used the metal disk in its concave placement along with the outer diffusion panel. Although the Adorama ad shows that the modifier comes with a grid, mine did not…..

So here are some of the shots:

The shot of the executive which will appear in a publication. Light is camera right about 4 feet from the individual.

Of course I created a portrait of the Director of the play.

Never miss a chance to hug a director!

My assessment of the modifier is it’s ‘good.’ The light quality is good for a modifier this small. Its pack ability is excellent and I will continue to use it as a rim or hair light. Or when I need to pack very small as a key light as well.

27 Aug 2018

Testing Before Using

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

Saberstrip v2.0

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

Test using a triangle configuration.

Test using them in a pair.

The Glow EZ Lock

Test setup.

Mole Richardson Fresnel Conversion

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

Parabolix 35D

Elinchrom 39″ Deep Rotalux 

 

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

02 Aug 2018

Evolv200s, Xplor600s, 600Pro, Saberstrip v2s on location

People always get so nervous when they see how I hold my cameras! I hate straps. LOL!!!

Shooting as a pro means there are times when you have to prove yourself once again with an established client. Not doing a great job either in the finished product or through your service simply means you’re not used again. One of my long standing clients, Village Theatre recently changed Artistic Directors. Jerry Dixon, their new AD planned to attend two of the three on location publicity shoots all to be held in different cities in greater Seattle area. The first session for the play Curious Incidents is also the play he is directing. No pressure eh? LOL

The second aspect of this day that is always a bit concerning was that I NEVER SAW ANY OF THE VENUES IN ADVANCE of the day! Sure the Marketing Director sent me some camera phone photos and links to the MOPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) areas where she wanted to shoot, but I had never been there. Nor had I been to Spangler Book Exchange/Reread Books, the quaint bookstore where we were to shoot the Matilda publicity or the alley in Everett where I’d shoot the Howard Barnes publicity. Add to that the additional element of time. For each venue we were limited in time based on either the schedule of some of the talent or due to the venue’s prior commitments.

The only element I ever insist on from clients is to answer; “What is the mood you want from each session?” Why? Well because the expression of the talent(s) and the LIGHT is something I have to plan for BEFORE I hit the job….which leads me to….

The Marketing Director kept asking me “Mark, I need to know your power requirements for each venue so I can work with each of the operations managers to plan power for your gear.” Since I exclusively use Flashpoint strobes, guess what….they need no outside power!!! SCORE! I hauled seven, yes seven strobes from SF to SEA in a small Pelican case. 49.5 pounds…just UNDER the 50 lbs. limit! Three Xplor600s, one 600Pro and three Evolv200s! I split the four 600 batteries between me and my partner’s carry on camera bags instead of inside checked luggage to save weight (btw I always put gaff tape over the contacts of the batteries just in case…). All of the stands were rented in Seattle and for the smoke I advance shipped smoke grenades to the Marketing Director. It takes planning folks….LOL

For modifiers I took three v2 Saberstrips which use Evolv200s with their Fresnel heads. I cannot speak highly enough about both the Evolvs and the new Saberstrips. Together they create what I view as a revolutionary combination in camera lighting. Yeah they’re that good. I knew that both the MOPOP and the bookstore sessions would be VERY CRAMPED in terms of space. Using “traditional” modifiers or strobes would be a total pain in the ass. Sure it could be done, but would easily have been a 10/10 on my cussing scale. I knew I wanted a softer light for both the MOPOP and bookstore feeling, but a hard light in the alley. So I took three Fresnel modifiers for that session. All of my modifiers fit into my SKB hard sided golf case which I use to transport my light modifiers when traveling out of town.

So here’s how it all worked: (All of the BTS images are by my partner Tracy Martin)

Session 1, Curious Incident shoot at MOPOP

The Marketing Director wanted an image in MOPOP where the talent appears to be ‘inside’ a dream. So placing modifiers INSIDE this structure for the style of light I wanted to achieve would have been next to impossible without the Evolv200 and the v2 Saberstrip.

One of the final images before editing.

Using the Evolv200 and the Saberstrip to create the feeling of an overhead light source WITHOUT the need for a boom arm is wonderful. Almost all of the other modifiers I own would need to be tilted at an angle to face toward the ground without a boom arm. The Key light is a the Explor600 Pro with a Fresnel head modifier to my right next to the tower structure.

Final shot. Balancing the light to not overpower the hand held flashlight was key for this image. Had I only used the Fresnel pointing at the talent it would not give the impression of an overhead light which was key to this shot.

Session 2 for Matilda at ReRead Bookstore

About 20 people were in this tiny quaint bookstore just for this shoot! I think the actual customers were highly entertained. (They were taking iPhone photos of us! LOL) Here the Marketing staff and the talent review some of the images on my iPad.

Marketing looks over the shots in real time. As you can see the Saberstrip was invaluable in this session. Soft light, yet so good in tight spaces! I love it!!!

Jerry the AD attends to the details. I feel we made a great team since I sometimes miss the small but so important details when I’m in a session.

Ah I cannot say enough about the value of the Evolv200s paired with the v2 Saberstrips!!!!

A few of the Final Images

Session 3 for Howard Barnes in an alley in Everett WA

I laughed as I watched people walking by! They had no idea what to make of what was going on. Oh and that puppet freaked me out!

The Director of Howard Barnes is my light test fella. This is the alley in ‘natural light.’

The talent just yucking it up while I balance the smoke lights. Oh and if you’ve ever worked with smoke it’s great when there’s no wind…..LOL

A few of the Final Images

So cool that wind was coming up from that ground grate so her tail would fly!

Four Xplor600s and two Evolv200s lit this shot. Whew!

I was so shocked to see an article written by James Spangler the owner of ReRead Books where we shot the Matilda publicity! All if not most photographers know that getting feedback is rare so this was both a nice and humbling surprise. My whole point on this post is to highlight the incredible leap in technology and innovation in the field of photographic lighting. Sure all of us can figure out how to do something even if it’s tough. But to have others who are helping to ease the stress of creating beautiful light is wonderful!

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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