Occasionally my clients ask that I shoot in front of seamless. Most of the time it is because they have a graphic artist add treatments to the shot. In other cases they don’t have the time or budget to go on location. Shooting in front of seamless is my least favorite type of shooting, but sometimes it’s necessary. In a recent studio publicity session for Noises Off the client asked that I shoot in front of white seamless due to actor scheduling issues preventing an on location shoot. In addition he conveyed to me that no graphic treatments would be added to the final image. The Director of the play sent me a photograph created in NYC by another theatre company for the same play, Noises Off. They had shot their publicity image on location. It conveyed the mood of the shot to me very well.
So my challenge was to recreate that mood in front of seamless. No room, no textures of walls, just plain white paper is all that I had. So after giving it some thought, I decided to combine three different light sources to create the shot within the Artistic Director’s confines, but give the Director the mood and story he desired. I asked that some furniture be used to create levels between the seven (yep 7) different characters in the shot. It would also provide a much less sterile feeling of the seamless. A chair, a small table and I opted to bring a prop lamp I had purchased from a theatre company long ago.
So here’s what I used to create this final image:
Setting up the ‘room’ with the lights and props. The talent found this very entertaining to see me flashing the lamp and gobo strobes while all of this was going on! LOL
Key Light was a PCB legacy 86” Soft silver umbrella. I had intended to use my Glow Grand Para focusing rod modifier, but found that PCB worked much better for this shot. Camera left was its placement. I cannot vouch for the newer version of the PLM soft silver umbrella as I have not purchased or used one. The strobe I used for the key light was the Flashpoint 600.
The lamp was lit using a Flashpoint Zoon R2 Manual Flash with a Gary Fong Lightsphere placed inside the lamp shade. Because I was using strobes, any normal light bulb would have been completely overpowered so I needed to illuminate the lamp with a strobe. It just added the authenticity of light that I wanted for the shot.
The ‘window shadow’ I decided to add was created using a Flashpoint XP600 Pro attached to a Flashpoint XP600 Pro Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead using a now discontinued Bowens Universal Spotlite Attachment with a Rosco window gobo. I wanted some visual interest and a cue to the interior of a grand room to add mood.
Part of the story of the shot is the ‘butler’ dumping a tray of appetizers on one of the other characters. So in order to time the shot, I asked the ‘butler’ to nod when he was about to dump the tray. The tumbling of the items off of the tray was not done in post, but in camera. It’s just my workflow.
As professional shooters we are so often asked to create a mood and story out of nothing. It’s just the nature of the job. Using your imagination and different light sources/modifiers can do things that one can only imagine.
Our client Hillbarn Theatre just released one of their publicity posters for the upcoming production of West Side Story. This image was shot using a Flashpoint XPLOR 600PRO and the Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic 48″ with disk and inner diffusion panel as the key light. Rim light was a Saberstrip v2 using an eVOLV200.
I did a re-shoot for a client’s West Side Story publicity imagery since they have actually cast the roles. I decided to use the Glow 48 with the metal disk and inner diffusion panel installed instead of my focusing arm modifiers for this session. I wanted a slightly softer yet still punchy look for the mood the client wanted created. I continue to be amazed and happy with the light quality and the ease of set up with this modifier. My only niggle is that it can be tough to push it open because of the size of the modifier. I have to stand to one side and really push down to get it to click. Ah first world problems eh? LOL.
I continue to be impressed with the EZ 48, so much so that it was only one of four modifiers I took for a personal editorial project down to El Segundo to shoot Luna Cycle. (I have an upcoming article on that trip along with photos of course….) The other two modifiers were my Fresnel and two the soon to be released SaberStrip v2.0 which comes out later this month. This project was editorial in nature over ‘beauty‘ in the traditional sense. (I find beauty in loads of things that may not seem obvious.) I know a good many of you (including myself) like to ‘learn’ about modifiers and how they apply to shooting beauty or product. But for me the real test of a modifier is just how versatile it can be in a variety of situations.
The light quality is always my first concern and the EZ has that down pat. The ease of assembly and if it is the right tool for the right job is my second consideration. For the two images below it fit both all three of those criteria perfectly.
I have found that the value and quality of light presented by the EZ is remarkable.
I had a client reschedule one of my sessions, so I decided to do a quality of light test today with this modifier against my SMDV 110 using a focusing rod and my Parabolix 35D modifier. Since the Glow comes with this little metal disk I wanted to find out if it could produce a similar quality of light to my actual focusing rod light modifiers. Spoiler Alert: Yes it can! With one major limitation…..
I was actually away at how good this 95.00 modifier’s quality of light is in real life. The major difference between it and my other focusing rod modifiers is its inability to feather light while using the disk. I almost always feather light using any modifier. I know that many people generally point a modifier directly at the talent, but my taste prefers having the light bounce away from the talent. It produces a delicious wrap that a direct shot just doesn’t accomplish. Because the light source on the Glow is pointing DIRECTLY TOWARD the talent, but is deflected back toward the modifier by the disk (much like a beauty dish), any angle not pointing directly toward your talent exposes the strobe bulb. This creates a severe hot spot and ruins the effects of the modifier. True focusing rod modifiers point the strobe bulb AWAY from the talent toward the modifier. That greatly increases the angle at which the modifier can be turned without exposing the bulb. In addition the housing of focusing rods which hold the strobes have a flange that also shields the bulb from direct line of sight.
One of the “potential issues” I had read somewhere is that the Glow 48 is passing light ‘through‘ the spokes of the housing skeleton. I’m always fascinated how people concern themselves with things like that. In my experience it does NOT affect the quality of light in this modifier.
For the purposes of this test I shot all three modifiers directly at Jenni, no feathering. In the focusing rod comparison, no diffusion material was used on any of the modifiers. The reason I prefer focusing rods is the extra contrast, smoothness and punch they produce in the quality of light. They’re certainly not for everyone, but my clients now insist on this type of light for most of their publicity work. There are exceptions, but it’s what we both prefer. The ability to focus or flood the very same modifier to give different lighting moods/looks is wonderful.
For the SMDV and the Parabolix I had the focusing arm in their mid-flooded position (both used the Parabolix focusing arm and an xPLOR 600 with remote head), meaning halfway out from the apex of the modifier. I did this because the disk on the Glow would only go about halfway from the apex of its modifier. I did notice a color difference between the modifiers as well. I’ve decided to post the images without identifying which modifier was which…until the end. After all we each decide for ourselves what we prefer and I don’t want to influence your view of this modifier. So here we go….
I also wanted to do a quality of light test using both diffusion panels which is the way most of the people will use the Glow 48. I did NOT use the diffusion disk in addition to the two diffusion panels. The inner diffusion panel has a 2 stop circular panel which effectively reduces any potential hot spots. My gold standard in a two diffusion panel configuration has been my beloved Elinchrom 39” Rotalux Deep Octa. I found the Glow achieves 90% of the light I love in the Eli. And considering the Eli is 290.00 PLUS an additional 55.00 for a Bowens speedring AND 86.00 for a hooded diffusion panel (no grid is made for the Eli Rotalux line) that’s a whopping 431.00 compared to 95 bucks. Is that 10% difference worth the extra three and change Benjamins? That’s totally up to how your client feels about the lighting. And if you’re not shooting client work, how you feel about the light quality.
So let’s do a little math:
- Glow 95.00 (46”)
- SMDV 110 (44”) 325.00 (not including a focusing rod)
- Parabolix 35D (89cm) Package 838.00 (including focusing arm)
In order of ease of assembly and breakdown as I used them today (without diffusion panels):
- Glow 48*
- SMDV 110**
- Parabolix 35D
* The Glow is the easiest to assemble and strike IF you don’t use the inner and outer diffusion panels. They must be removed and installed each time you use this modifier.
** The SMDV is hands down the fastest and easiest modifier to assemble and break down if the diffusion panels are installed. You don’t have to remove them when breaking down the modifier. They can remain on the modifier.
- Shot A: Parabolix 35D
- Shot B: Glow 48″
- Shot C SMDV 110cm
I will simply say that the light quality and value of the Glow Deep 48” Quick is REMARKABLE. Add to that fact its cost and it’s a no brainer. It is going into my workflow immediately and I’ll not hesitate to use it when it’s the right tool for the right job. A side note, Jenni the young woman I asked to be my test subject is also a photographer. She was so impressed she plans on purchasing a Glow 48. Hell who can blame her?!
Zarli, a visitor recently asked me two questions, one of which didn’t take long to research and I’m assuming others will have this same question so I’m adding it here. He wants to know the diameter of the changeable speed ring in the unit. The measurement is 144mm or 5 2/3rds of an inch. If the light quality is as I expect I will change the Bowens speed ring to a Cheetahstand low profile ring. I’ve done this for all of my Bowens modifiers when using them without a focusing rod. The reason is the Cheetahstand Low Profile rings allow my Flashpoint strobe bulbs to penetrate further into a modifier giving me a percentage increase in light output. It’s a very easy change and well worth the extra 25 bucks.
Although I have not had time to evaluate the actual light quality of this modifier, I wanted to give my impressions of the Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic’s physical build quality of the unit. As is my workflow, until I can test any modifier I won’t be using it on commercial shoots. Since this is my hectic time of year I’m not sure when that will occur. But once it does I will post my impressions here. And I’m not going to get into the fucking bullshit back and forth about whether this is a true parabola. If you’re one of those best of luck and start babbling about geometric facts somewhere else. My world is about creating compelling and excellent imagery, not having to be fucking right. Plenty of other troll places you can go online for that.
At this point it’s way too early to give my impressions of the light quality, simply because I haven’t tried it! But from a construction standpoint I feel that for 95.00 USD it presents a great value. Is it ‘better’ than this brand or that brand? I can’t say, but will say that IF the light quality is great to excellent I will add this to my workflow when it’s the right tool for the right job. More to come…..later.
Before I started to use lights of any kind I would proudly (and arrogantly) say to anyone who would listen, “I only shoot with natural light.” I pontificated that only ‘pure photography’ was created in natural light. Truth was I didn’t know shit about using anything other than available light. Sure I had used speed lights ‘some’ but as I look back on my images I thought were great back then, well…… they are pure shit in my view today!
So during a dinner conversation with a longtime friend who knew I liked taking photos asked, “Hey do you know who Greg Gorman is? My brother Seth works with him and you may want to talk to Seth about seeing if you can take one of Greg’s classes.” After picking my jaw up off of the ground I responded “WTF you mean THE Greg Gorman? The fucking guy who has shot about every fucking celebrity I can name? Your brother KNOWS him?”
So after contacting Seth he conveyed to me that later in the year he was teaching alongside Greg during one of his classes. So I signed up. The course was one full week in Albion, CA where Greg has a residence and a studio. I won’t go into the whole thing, but suffice it to say that I owe quite a bit of my success as a photographer to what I learned from him about light during that week.
His whole objective was to teach us (four students) how to see and use light. And for the first two days we used ‘natural light’ meaning the sun along with reflectors and scrims, specifically Sunbounce gear. Because of Greg introducing me to those items along with my real life experience of all the Sunbounce gear I used and have since purchased (way too many to list) I am not only a loyal Sunbounce consumer, but have found that for on location gigs nothing beats them.
I received a Glow Panel which is 39″ x 62″ right between the sizes of the Sunbounce Mini and Pro panels I own and use. The Mini is 3×4 feet and the Pro is 4×6 feet. I have many of the Sunbounce fabrics, 1/3, 2/3 stop scrims, silver/white reflective fabric and some gold/silver combo fabric. I find that I seldom use the gold/silver since I’d rather add warmth in post if needed. And the other fabric I use all of the time is the black. I learned from Greg just how valuable a light detractor is in sculpting light. I’m not certain if Adorama plans to offer a black fabric for this device.
Prior to using Sunbounce stuff, I like others used those pop out type reflectors or white foam core. The issue I’ve always had with those pop up type reflectors is they are crap in moderate wind. One of the things I look for in any reflector is its ability to keep a tight fabric surface. Trying to feather the right amount of light onto talent is hard enough. Having to wrestle with a flexing reflector is ridiculous. And foam core, uh OK it’s cheap but a pain to transport and it never lasted too long in my hands.
The Glow Reflector/Scrim kit comes with both a 2/3rds scrim and silver/white reflector reversible fabric. The frame of the unit is hinged and fully connected via smart hinges. There is a bar that attaches to the frame which holds the unit on a light stand. It’s nice that they include a grip to attach the unit to a light stand. Unless you purchase the Sunbounce Kit, no grip is included.
The fabric is attached via Velcro and is well done and keeps the fabric nice and tight. But I do NOT like to use Velcro to attached fabric to reflector frames. Why? It’s a personal preference, but I have found that when I am shooting on location the time it takes to attach fabric via Velcro to a frame is time consuming. I had tried Photoflex framed scrims and reflectors. They used shock cord to assemble the frames, much like a tent. And the fabric was attached via strong elastic bands at each corner. Convenient to put on and off, but not very tight in holding the fabric tight and easily blown off in wind.
One issue I found with the Glow unit is when placing or removing the cross bar onto the frame, the entire end mounting pieces must be completely disassembled to attach the units onto the bars of the frame. Again more time than I’m accustomed to.
The hinges in the middle of the frame can pivot in two different ways. Only one of those ways is the way it’s intended to pivot in order to fold the frame in half to fit into the carry bag. The other pivot method simply places the frame into a 90 degree angle with the opposing side of the frame. Frustrating….
Now for the good news. If I were to keep this Panel in a studio environment and not have to assemble and disassemble the frame/fabric I’d have opted for the Glow Panels over my Sunbounce units in a second. Why? Well the fabrics are of high quality and the units present a much better value for studio work. At 99.00 which INCLUDES the light stand mounting grip, a scrim and a reversible white/silver fabric, versus a Sunbounce Mini at 378.00 PLUS and additional 153.00 for a 2/3 stop scrim you’re looking at a whopping 531.00! The performance of the scrim/reflector material is equal to the Sunbounce fabrics. But if you need to assemble and disassemble the frame on a regular basis (like I do) there’s no competition with Sunbounce. And as far as those pop up reflectors, I really don’t like their performance in the conditions in which I shoot. Sure they’re damn convenient to ‘pop up’ but their use in wind or in keeping a uniform surface has not been good in my experience. The Glow framed reflector is a much better choice.
While reading an article that Markus Klinko wrote I found an effective glass diffusion dome to go over the AD600/1200 bulbs. He uses them primarily in Fresnel modifiers and I can understand why. Unlike focusing arm modifiers or diffusion panel softboxes, Fresnel lenses project a beam of light through a lens. So any details or more accurately patterns of the bulb element will be projected onto the subject. I found this in my own experiment with the now discontinued PCB Retro Laser modifier which projects light through a parabolic (a real parabola!). When I was using my 1200ws head that contains two bulbs elements the resulting light showed the separate bulb patterns in my test.
I noticed that the diffusion glass cover he uses is sourced from China so I found one that may be made in China but has a short shipping time. That is the one I’m reviewing which is the Opencloud brand I found on Amazon. It’s also less expensive which is interesting since the one he uses is sold by Opencloud as well…go figure!
I had to remove some of the foam tape located at the rim of the frosted glass cover so that it would fit over the bulb without too much friction.
I decided to test the cover to see if the diffusion reduces the output of the strobe. I placed my Sekonic meter 10 feet away and set the AD600 to 1:1 power without any modifier. Without the cover at 1/100, ISO 100 the output was f14. With the diffusion cover it was f13. Now before you all get your panties in a twist thinking “Wow that is very low!” remember that a 7″ cone reflector is going to amplify the light much more than just firing any strobe with a bare bulb. My point is NOT to show how powerful the strobe is but to test to see if the glass diffusion cover reduces the output, and it does by only a third of a stop.
I plan to use the glass diffusion cover whenever I use my Retro Laser, Fresnel, PCB Omni or any other modifier where the bulb is focused without diffusion where I notice an element pattern on my subject. It’s nice to have this inexpensive option.
UPDATE March 15 2018
During a recent client sessions, both of which were on location I had the chance to use the AD600 Pro in combination with a number of modifiers. Because the remote head for the Pro is not yet released I did not use any focusing rod modifiers. In one session where I cannot release the images at this time, I used the Pro in an Elinchrom 69″ Octa with both diffusion panels installed. I did not go over 1/4 power and was shooting HSS with my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed flawlessly.
In the session I can post images below I used the Pro in a SMDV 44″ (110cm) octa with both diffusion panels installed. The interior of the theatre where I was doing these portraits was very dark so I appreciated the very bright modeling light so that I could easily obtain focus. To date I’ve found the Pro model exemplary in recycle time, modeling light and ease of use.
A few years back I purchased a SMDV S70 28” softbox when I was using speed lights with modifiers. I was impressed at the quality of the light, but even more so with how it opened and closed with ease! Later Adorama started selling their own version of the softbox under the GlowPop brand. They use the very same mechanism as SMDV for opening and closing the unit. I bought one of the GlowPops for quick run and gun shooting and liked the light weight both units provided. I changed both of those modifiers from the speed light bracket to Bowens brackets since I no longer used speed lights.
I recently wanted a more robust modifier that would set up quickly and have a better attachment system than the SMDV or the Glow Pop. Both of those hold the speed light or Bowens bracket onto the speedring with VERY SMALL SCREWS and on both the GlowPop and SMDV units I own, they have stripped out. We’re talking Phillips screws so small you must use a jeweler’s screwdriver to remove or install them. That’s small!
I’m also in the process of ‘paring down’ the number of modifiers I’ve collected over the years. My personal rule of thumb is if a modifier like my Zeppelin 47” with its heavy mounting bracket can be replaced by something within 10% of its size I’ll do it! You see I use focusing arms for many of my modifiers so I seldom use the diffusion panels that come with the modifiers. After doing some research I found that SMDV sells an A110 softbox that measures 44”, close enough! Plus it’s much lighter and a great shape for ‘parabolic’ focusing using a focusing rod. And their signature opening and closing mechanism makes it even sweeter to replace the Zep.
The largest GlowPop made is 38” and still uses those tiny damn screws to hold the bracket onto the speedring. The SMDV makes a 44” which fits within my personal parameters when I’m considering replacing another modifier for various reasons, in this case my 47” Zep.
So here are some of my initial tests using my trusty buddy “Bob” to ascertain the light qualities/spread/focusing capabilities of the modifier. If you are not familiar with focusing arm modifiers I suggest you search the web. This post is simply about my own findings with the SMDV 110. As I use this on real client sessions I will be updating this post. If at some point I opt to use the SMDV 110 with its included diffusion panels I will post those images as well.
So remember this is ONE LIGHT, ONE MODIFIER and simply angling the modifier to the left or right or focusing or flooding the light produces dramatically different looks. It’s just ONE of the reasons I love focusing arm modifiers. And the SMDV 110 is perfect for my needs. Well made, well designed and the quality of light it produces makes it a great choice for me. Oh and the weight and ease of assembly is just icing on the cake!
UPDATE February 26 2018
OK so after having used the Coolbox on location for a few weeks I have an improvement I’d like to see them make on the next version. The lifting handle opposite of the wheels is way too short. Why you ask? Well it’s fine for lifting the box in or out of the car, but leaning down due to the short handle as you roll it is a pain. It’s because the handle is made primarily for lifting and not rolling the toolbox. My ‘fix’ was to attach some rope to the handle opposite of the wheels so that I don’t have to lean down so far when rolling the toolbox. A friend of mine purchased one for her husband who’s 6-2 and he refuses to use it due to the oversight in designing the pulling handle. She wants to sell it! For now that’s it though!
In April of 2016 I along with many other folks contributed to the Indigogo program for Coolbox listed as the “World’s Smartest Toolbox.” I was made aware of the campaign by my photo partner. She said “Mark, check this out! So much of what they plan to build into this thing meets our needs!” So of course I plunked down my 199.00 plus 50 bucks in shipping and supported their campaign. Their original delivery date was scheduled for July 2016, a mere three months from my payment…not bad. Fast forward several months, then several years and nada, no Coolbox. But they kept communicating which was much better than the Kickstarter fiasco I invested in for a Kraftwerks bullshit device that never appeared.
Today, January 15 2018 I received my Coolbox and am thrilled with the product. I know it’s built for many different purposes, but for a working photographer who does studio shoots in a number of locations, this thing ticks so many boxes. I have used two canvas tool bags to carry my grip equipment which includes Super Clamps, DIY truss clamps, gaff tape, extension cords, you name it. I also take along a portable Bluetooth speaker to keep things lively during sessions, having the talent tap into the speaker with their favorite tunes on their cell phones. I shoot tethered to an iPad and as such take a stand specifically to hold the iPad so my clients can view the images in real time. Extension cords for smoke machines along with power reels so I have plenty of outlets. Then USB charging ports to power my phone, recharge my iPads, etc. Well guess what? Damn near ALL OF THOSE things are built into the Coolbox!
So the only bit of bad news? As of this post, January 15 2018 I see on their website that the Coolbox is backordered. Bummer. But if you feel it will fit your needs, GET ONE. As time goes on I’ll be updating this post to report if I’m still in love….
It’s no secret that I have enthusiastically adopted the use of focusing rod light modifiers. I’ve found them so versatile and the light quality they produce to my taste and my clients satisfaction. Sure there are times I love super soft light, but for me soft light, or the constant use of soft light is well….. boring. Indirect light like when using an umbrella produces some of the best contrast, detail of any modifiers I’ve used. the problem is umbrellas have their own issues one of them in controlling spill.
When I first was made aware of the Broncolor Para line of focusing rod modifiers I was captivated. It took quite some time for me to find a rental house that would not only rent the Para 88 octa, but the focusing rod as well. Once I tried one, I was sold. But the price was too cost prohibitive for my client base. At the time $4900.00 USD for one modifier was too pricey. So I made my own focusing rod which I wrote about here. I love the light it produces and the flexibility it gives me.
Since those days I purchased a Parabolix 35D, a CononMark 120cm focusing rod modifier and a Cheetahstand Chop Stick which I use with my Zeppelin line of modifiers. What has always frustrated me is I could never find anyone who produced a focusing rod that would accept ANY Bowens modifier. Each of the manufacturers I mentioned before including Cheetahstand all use proprietary mounting solutions for their focusing arms. 16 rods, or 8 rods, holes a certain size, you name it every manufacturer only fits their own line.
Prior to using focusing arm modifiers, my favorite modifier were my two Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octas. The quality of lights they produce is delicious. Yet because of the Elinchrom speedring design I could never figure out a way to mount a focusing arm to those octas…until now.
I searched for a bracket that is used for speedlights which can be directly mounted to a swiveling Bowens adapter and found this one on eBay. The next issue was finding a male Bowens adapter that would fit onto the mounting bracket. After much measuring I determined that the Adorama or SMDV Bowens ring would fit perfectly. There is quite a bit of modification that needs to happen and perhaps at some point I will outline those steps. But for now anyone with motivation can buy those two items (which were the toughest parts to figure out btw) and make your own. And NO I will NOT be making/selling these brackets, so please don’t ask.
The one other issue many trolls will like to talk about is if this or that modifier is TRULY PARABOLIC in shape. While those folks are flapping their pie holes along with their constant need to be right, I simply look at how any modifier PERFORMS to my own as well as my client’s satisfaction to determine if it’s right for my taste. I love the flexibility of choice and having a bracket that will allow me to use any Bowens mount modifier with a focusing arm gives me freedom to choose. I’m even going to try hard modifiers with a focusing arm!!!! Who knows I may find out it works great…or not. But at least I have the option.
My partner and I went back and forth for quite some time about whether or not we wanted to invest in a long or short term lease on a studio. In the Bay Area real estate is very pricey, much more so than other areas of the country. But that is not the primary reason we opted to NOT put our money into a studio. I think there are photographers who can easily justify a studio which includes much more than just the rent. Sure it would be so much more convenient for me to have a studio instead of lugging gear and assistants to and from locations. But, and this is a BIG BUT for me, I would get bored, completely and utterly in about 2 shoots. Why? I bore easily and shooting against seamless or bringing in props, constantly building sets, etc. would drive me to the point that I may decide to return to a corporate job! (No way really…)
For me the world is the best studio, the absolute best for my work. But sometimes for a variety of reasons my clients cannot arrange to shoot on location so I shoot in rented studios or spaces which are convenient to the client. Flying the talent in, housing them, using Union makeup/hair/wig/prop you name it staff is expensive. Transporting them to a studio far away is inconvenient to many clients. You’d be shocked at how some of the ‘studios’ I work in are crazy cramped or awful from a shooter’s standpoint. But a big part of being a pro is working with what you got.
But there are times when a client wants ‘more’ than just seamless but doesn’t have the budget to house or transport all of the talent to the perfect location. So a rented studio for the day or week, or better yet a warehouse is what I use. This is where light/atmosphere and theatrical type modifiers like gobos can make a scene more effective. Whenever people ask how I create different looks in studio I just say, “Watch movies, look at the light/environment and figure out how to make the scene you’re watching. Imagination is insanely more powerful than any new camera gear. And simply having an idea is not good enough. You need to actually make it happen.”
Recently a client ‘wanted’ to do their publicity shoot on location, but since scheduling of the talent and the availability of the venue didn’t jibe we shot in studio, a rented warehouse. By using atmosphere and special light modifiers the client was pleased.
The whole point of this posting is to help you decide if a studio is something you ‘have to have.’ In my case it is not simply because the type of work I do constantly demands new looks and feelings for my client base. Every shooter has different needs and there are no ‘right or wrong’ answers.
UPDATE 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.
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.
UPDATE January 10 2018
I recently used the 35D during a publicity shoot for a symphony. The amount of control focusing rod modifiers offer is incredible. Not to mention the goddess light it produces.
UPDATE December 24 2017
How one of my clients used a publicity image created while using a Parabolix 35D.
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.
UPDATED September 8 2017
My client, the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA released the images created using the Parabolix 35D six weeks early. You can see some of these and other shots from this day in Broadway World. I used four lights using the Parabolix as key for most of the images below:
Please note that for all of the images below I have NOT done any post processing other than bringing the files into Lightroom to adjust color balance, lens correction. If you look closely you can see the gaff tape marks on the seamless which have not yet been removed for final press images.
The following images were shot with three lights. The client wanted an old school “Hollywood Glamour” look for these shots in BW. High contrast was achieved by using the 35D in its fully focused mode. The drapes were lit using eVOLV 200s using a Fresnel head.
UPDATED September 3 2017
You can view my recent dance session where I used the 35D for many of the shots to produce dramatic shadows and light.
UPDATED August 20 2017
Yesterday I conducted a test of the Parabolix 35D with focusing arm. I asked Cheyenne to be the talent since she’s so darn lovely to work with! Now if you are looking for a ‘side by side’ comparison with other modifiers using split screens, etc. quit reading and save yourself some time. I am NOT a review site. I don’t value pseudo scientific or theoretical physics. Photography is not an exact science it’s all subjective. Those who never post any actual images or a body of work have zero credibility to me. And if they do have a body of work I get to judge for myself if the quality of that work is high. If so then their opinion is of value to me. So for you photography trolls who never post shit other than H8R comments, save yourself the having to be right mentality and bail now.
I seldom if EVER use one single light. So I didn’t test the Parabolix 35D that way. Sure it may produce the thing you want to see, but again since I’m NOT a review site, but a working shooter I needed to see how it performs in my situations. In the tests I ran yesterday I want to see how the 35D compares to my CononMark 120, and my Westcott Zeppelin 59 which I use as inverted octas and have for the past year. Yep they’re all different sizes, the 35D is, well 35″, the CononMark 120 is 47″ and the Zep is 59″. I didn’t want to purchase an equivalent size to what I already have. (Yet I do have a Zep 47″….!)
I used my 59″ Zep with the inner diffusion panel only with an xPLOR600 powering their handheld remote head. As you can see in the image above I had it on a boom pointing straight down over Cheyenne. Keep in mind that the BTS shot of my BTS shoot was not necessarily where she was actually standing for the shots below. I took the shot above JUST TO GIVE YOU an idea of my configuration.
All images were shot with my Pentax 645Z. And if you look closely you will see the old USB receivers plugged into the xPLOR600s. Why? Because I just discovered how to achieve HSS with my Pentax whose native sync speed is only 1/125th of a second. Using a Cactus v6II trigger combined with the old FT-16 transmitter did the trick. If interested, I’ve written how to do it here. Most of the shots were at a shutter speed of either 1/200th or 1/250th.
Below each photograph I’ve said whether I used the Parabolix is its ‘flooded’ or ‘focused’ position. If you don’t know, flooded means the strobe head is pushed all the way out toward the front of the modifier. Focused means it’s pulled all the way into the modifier. Flooded gives you a much softer look, focused is way more contrasty. You should also know that no matter what modifier you use be it a Zeppelin, CononMark, Parabolix or other brand, you must adjust your power settings when you flood or focus the light.
The other aspect of the photos below is they have NOT been retouched, edited to final, blah blah blah. Why? Well for two reasons. Cheyenne is confident enough to allow images of her unretouched and second it is my preference to illustrate light tests. When I see ‘final test shots’ that have gone through loads of post processing I cannot actually tell how the light performs for my taste. I don’t want to see plastic skin, dodged and burnt images. I want to see how the shot came out of cam. So these were brought into Lightroom, adjusted for color and that’s it. No blemishes were removed (like she has any anyway!), no skin smoothing. None of that shit for my tests.
So my final impression of the Parabolix 35D? I like it. Do I plan to replace all of my other modifiers with them? Uh no, here’s why…
I love the construction of the unit, it’s high quality. The fabrics are spot on and the focusing rod is just as nice as the Bron Para I rented last year. Is it 2.6 times better than my CononMark 120? Not sure really. Will I keep it? Yes as I don’t have a 35″ inverse, but WILL test it against my favorite Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa later this month. Prior to using xPLOR/Godox strobes I was a very loyal user of Paul’s Einsteins. For me they presented the best value/performance of any brand of light. But I ended up switching ALL of my strobes over to the xPLOR/Godox brand. The amount of innovation and features they present sadly eclipsed Paul’s units after his passing. It’s no secret that I’ve always felt he was a genius and I sorely miss his innovation in lighting along with his quirky nature as a person.
But unlike my move from exclusively Einstein’s to exclusively xPLORs, I will most likely NOT make the move from CononMark/Zeppelins/Elinchroms to exclusively Parabolix. I know there are those who may feel/’prove’/argue/compare that the Parabolix is THAT MUCH BETTER and good for them. Time will tell me how much I like the modifier. I may change my mind after a year or so. Every person is different in what they look for. I tend to eat at hole in the wall places owned by families whose food is out of this world. But then again that’s just my opinion and taste. I will occasionally venture into a Michael Mina restaurant recommended by those who love the name and rave about the food. But that’s just not my thing. As long as my clients and I are thrilled with my work, that’s really all that matters to me. I’m certainly NOT dissing the Parabolix at all. It’s a fine modifier. It’s up to each person to decide for themselves. What I would recommend is to wait until a rental house has some to rent. Rent one, try it out and then decide if it’s right for yours/your client’s taste and budget.
Today I received my Parabolix 35D ‘kit’ which means I purchased their package which includes their focusing arm and strobe cage. I will be testing the light this Saturday with a model to ascertain if I plan to add this to my toolbox of modifiers. I will initially say that the construction of the unit is excellent. The 16 rods are much like those in the CononMark and Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa that I own. The rods are captured in the speed ring and pivot and held in place with sprung collars.
The fabric of the exterior is similar to very heavy canvas, the type I was accustomed to handling while sailing. Heavy and well made. The interior texture is much like my Elinchrom which is a pebbled texture. Once I am able to actually use this modifier I will update this post.
One of the things I noticed right away is the light pattern of the modifier when the modeling light is on. Unlike my other modifiers which include Zeppelins, Elinchroms, CononMarks and Glowpops the Parabolix fills more evenly than the others. Now the real test of the light will happen this Saturday when in actual use, but this is interesting.
The bag that is supplied with the modifier is made of the same sturdy fabric as the modifier itself. It seems very abrasion resistant which is something I appreciate given how much I transport gear on airlines. I was worried that I would not be able to fit the modifier, focusing rod and strobe cage into the bag, but they all fit. I can even fit the grid I received with the modifier into the bag as well. The bag includes an attached adjustable shoulder strap.
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…
David Allen Cooper, Principal Horn – Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
David commissioned me for a two day portrait session and although he resides in Dallas, TX he agreed to travel to San Francisco along with his manager to conduct the session. I was free to completely art direct his imagery. His only request is that they were different than traditional symphonic musician portraits and conveyed a younger more relevant look.
I am easily bored. After falling in love with the light characteristics of a new modifier I want to move on, at least until I want the same look a specific modifier gives me. I like having different looks for my images and as such I often combine modifiers. In the images for Emma I wanted a more surreal or ethereal feel for her portraits so I combined a standard projector to fill in the background seamless with a variety of images. I found some of my cloud images read best for this session.
Photographers often ask, “Mark what’s your favorite modifier? Is it a softbox, umbrella, shoot through or bounce?” My answer is always the same – My favorite modifier is what I think is the best one for a specific job. Sometimes it’s a softbox, sometimes it’s an umbrella, sometimes a cone or in quite a few cases it’s a combination of several.
As I often like to do, let’s go back a few years. One of my teachers, actually the man who taught me about using artificial light was thankfully VERY hard on me. No namby pamby talk it was mostly, “You must not be listening to me because that looks terrible, here’s why!” And he would go over EXACTLY why it was bad and he was always right…..back then. After a bit my photos moved from terrible to a preverbal “Nice” which in Greg’s speak meant crummy but not horrible.
Just this week I was scheduled to shoot a publicity session for one of my regular clients. As I was setting up Dan said “Hey Mark, did you bring your IceLight and barn doors?” I thought to myself Huh? I had used the unit about two months prior on a different shoot, how could he even remember what lighting instrument I used? My clients seldom if EVER mention what I’m using for gear. (well except when I use my little Fuji X`100S affectionately named by my clients as Mark’s Little Instamatic) More on this later…
Let me ‘rewind’ about one year, maybe a bit more or less. Tracy, my partner in business and life read some information about something called an IceLight and was quite excited. She loves working with constant light especially since she was developing her skills in film making. As usual I was a bit hesitant about purchasing something new so I suggested we rent one to try. What I initially found was the lumens were not quite what I was accustomed to since I normally use 640ws strobes, Einsteins to be exact. She loved the unit, but of course my comment “Babe the retail on those things is the same as the retail on our Steins which we use all the time. I don’t think we’d have much regular use for those, let’s wait.”
Later that year I was reading Gregory Heisler’s book “50 Portraits” and was completely captivated by his work using constant light sources. So like the fool I am I announced to Tracy “Hey babe, let’s try using constant light for some of our work. I think it has real application and I think it would be best if we buy two. One is fine if we did this for a hobby, two would give us a lot more flexibility. “ Now for anyone who has a wife, girlfriend or significant other you will completely relate to the body posture, tone and statement which was uttered through clenched teeth as a result of my spoken ‘revelation.’ Enough said and I’ve never pretended to be smart….
I’ve used the IceLights as a key light, fill light and when anything that flashes would just be out of the question. Case in point. I was asked to photograph Jaap van Zweden the world famous conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and I was allowed to sit IN the orchestra, dead center during a rehearsal. The lights in the Meyerson Auditorium are great for viewing but absolutely horrid for photographing a conductor. Directly overhead and without any fill, Jaap’s eye are completely shaded by his brow line, making his eyes appear dead and lifeless.
Some may ask themselves “Why not use a reflector?” Great question except with a conductor who MOVES passionately while conducting keeping the sweet light where you want it is impossible. Plus one MUST consider that a reflector is going to obstruct the view for some of the orchestra members who must watch the conductor. Because the form factor of the IceLight is so thin, none of those issues were a problem and made it the perfect light instrument for that job. I combined Westcott’s tungsten gel and barn door with just enough of an opening to cover his movement and not obstruct the view of the violin players since the light was placed camera right, right where the concert masters sit.
I sometimes use a Fresnel 1000w spotlight with a gobo for some of my sessions. Such was the case with Laetitia, a Cirque hoop aerialist during an action portrait session. Again a reflector was out of the question since she’s moving. I used one IceLight to fill in her face since being backlit by the Fresnel with haze rendered her face too dark without the IceLight.
There have also been times when I’ve used a projector on the talent to place graphics either in the scene or actually on him as in the case of this violinist. Due to the very low lumens afforded by a projector sending a graphic blowing out the graphics is very easy to do with a strobe or hand held flash. Only highlighting his face was my goal for this shot using a single IceLight.
What do I love about them? Portability, ease of use and its slim profile. What would I change? I’d like to have the intensity setting kept in memory so when I turn the unit back on, it’s in the same lumen state as when I turned it off. I’ve also noticed that although you can use the units plugged in, it appears that the battery is used first and then it recharges itself. So if I need to unplug the unit and use it without power I’m sunk if the battery was run low.
What do I hate? Not having two more! Is it the perfect lighting instrument? Oh hell no, but what is a perfect lighting instrument? Is it perfect for the right application? Absolutely!
I said at the beginning of this article that Dan remembered the IceLight which in and of itself was remarkable. But what was more striking is his memory of how the image I created looked using an IceLight. I really think he just wants one for his own iPhone shots!
Today while I was conducting a commercial session I decided to run a quick test. I wanted to compare my work camera, the Canon 1DX using Sigma’s new Art 50mm Lens against my Fuji X100S with the TCL X100 teleconverter attached. Both images were shot using the same studio strobes and modifiers. Camera settings on both units was ISO 200, 1/160th shutter speed, f6.3. Obviously both focal lengths were 50mm.
For those who may be sneaky, I’ve removed the EXIF data. It’s quite remarkable what the little Fuji paired with the TCL X100 can do. After all it’s only about a $6,049.00 difference at suggested retail! Smile or no smile, which is which?
In January 2014 I photographed publicity imagery for Village Theatre‘s 2014-15 Season Brochure marketing materials. Some was done against seamless, others done on location. We were able to collaborate with the Company’s principles on concepts and messaging prior to beginning the shoot which made a huge difference in consistent messaging and impact. This was a wonderful experience of complete collaboration.
Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s 2014-15 Season Brochure
In order to put an entire marketing campaign together it first takes vision. The Marketing VP at Dallas Symphony Orchestra had a very specific vision for his 2014-15 Season Brochure. His concept was to carry a “Date Night” theme throughout his brochure, creating an experience which would attract new as well as existing patrons. He also wanted a theatrical and dream like quality to the individual performances, one that matched each symphonic piece.
Keep in mind that whenever you’re hired to create commercial imagery there is quite a bit at stake. Beyond your own reputation, there’s the talent, scheduling, venue logistics, graphics gurus, administrative help, travel, blah, blah blah. And although an Art Director may have a specific shot they have in their own minds, it’s up to the photographer to execute that vision, one that often only exists in the AD’s mind.
Publicity photography for Oakland School for the Arts – Dance Emphasis. These images feature seniors from their 2014 Class. This is my third year working with this remarkable company. They are choreographed and coached by Reginald-Ray Savage and Alison Hurley.