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.
Earlier this month while was using my Mavic to both film and photograph for a client, I was flying sideways and ended up crashing into a tree! Total user error and thankfully it was at the very end of the sessions! LUCKILY I had purchased DJI Care Refresh (Mavic Pro) when I bought the drone. They allow you to purchase the coverage within the first 48 hours of purchase. For 99.00 on a 1k item it’s a great value. But just like all insurance the REAL TEST comes when you make a claim. Any company will gladly take your premiums, but filing a claim is a different story. So I got onto the site, filled out the form and guess what? They emailed me a FedEx label! That’s right, they pay for shipping to and from! Incredible. The cost for my ‘repair’ was 79.00. And IF I crash again it will be 129.00! Now this does not cover things like theft, losing your drone, etc. Makes perfect sense. But in my case I could not be happier and DJI has a loyal customer for life.
UPDATE November 11 2017
Still practicing and boy to get cinematic film ain’t easy. But hey if it was everyone could do it! It sure is fun to learn though. Using ND filters really helps.
It’s also nice to know that the Mavic can take RAW stills in the form of the DNG format. Granted not as high res as my MF camera, but still good! What I did learn though is when I set my shutter speed at a low number, usually around 1/125th or lower when I take stills that have motion I get motion blur. Makes perfect sense, I’m just not accustomed to switching from film to stills. Learnings…..
Yep, it was time. Time to try something new, to feel uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. Film, stills, creativity from a new perspective. How does anyone expect to grow simply by being ‘safe?’ FAA certification is on tap. Using light and motion….
Today, May 20 2018 is my second anniversary as a stroke survivor. It occurred exactly 22 days after my Mom’s death and for the three years preceding that event it was both stressful and heart wrenching to watch her health decline. I didn’t have grandparents long, they passed when I was a young toddler. So experiencing the declining health of an elder was a new experience for me. Something only experience can show you and in reality nothing actually prepares anyone for that inevitable time.
I was photographing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on that day in 2016. I was on the balcony level when it happened. I knew that if I fell I would not only kill myself, but someone below me. So I made my way to the emergency exit stairwell and laid down on the floor. I heard the final notes, the applause and just as that ended, a white male, about 50-55 years old, 6-1 190lbs with a blue blazer and grey slacks entered the stairwell. (If you’re wondering about my description I was an investigator for 8 years) He looked directly at me and paused for just a second and then continued walking. Not a word, no offer of help. I will always remember his face and if I ever see him again we will share an experience we will both remember.
The doctors told me I was lucky when I finally went to the hospital three days later. Yes I did EVERYTHING wrong by not going to the ER right away, waiting until I flew back home to go to the ER AFTER I went to sleep that night when I arrived home. I’ve always been the type who does what I want to do…given my life’s limitations. I raised two kids, put one through college, paid for her education and supported a family of four. So during those times I had self imposed limitations, kids, a family to support and that’s what I chose to do.
But even then I would seldom listen to people who made little sense or seemed to only like the sound of their own voice. But that day in the stairwell in Dallas marked an even more profound change in my attitude about choices. I no longer choose to do, say or think things in life I don’t agree with. And perhaps most important, I choose to disassociate from, avoid or confront those who are rude, mean spirited or simply ignorant. I chose to save, to lead a 1099 life and now I’m blessed to have made those choices and have been lucky. Only an arrogant person ever believes that the entire benefits of life are totally self made. It’s the same as a victim mentality, always believing it’s someone else’s fault.
It’s one of the small reasons I maintain this blog, to help others, to offer my views of things I’ve used, my experiences with them. It’s why I have an especially jaded view of trolls of any type.
My two goals in life are to live an honorable life and to help others, that’s it.
Long ago I gave up participating on forums. Why? Because like ex-girlfriends who just had to be right, I cannot stand people who talk, bitch and produce nothing. Or sadly feel their work is good! I do frequent a few sites, the-digital-picture where Bryan and Sean take their time and review camera gear with integrity. Flashhavoc is where I learn about new lighting items. And I recently started frequenting Lighting Rumours which also talks about new lighting gear but have reviews of some of the items. Markus Klinko a shooter whose body of work I admire, also posts some interesting information about gear he uses on that site. He’s a commercial photographer who has a link to his work in his articles which is very well done. One of the aspects of how he approaches gear is that the brand/cost is irrelevant to his decisions. He states he uses Elinchrom, Broncolor, Cheetahstand among others. He looks at the performance of a product, not the brand or price point. I admire that as I tend to do the very same thing in my own selections.
Most if not all fucking trolls NEVER have links to their work, EVER. Why? Well because they really don’t know how to shoot well yet love to hear themselves talk about gear. Their photos ‘may’ be ‘nice’ (my mentor’s word for shit work) but instead they like to bitch about anything and sharp shoot those who are expressing their views.
Working photographers who post reviews of gear they’ve used are people I truly respect. Trolls are the bottom feeders of any craft.
Here are examples of the comments relating the Markus’ quick personal review of the Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Octa 190cm. Not all are trolls, but you will be able to immediately identify those who fit that category:
Markus thanks for your personal assessments on Lighting Rumours. It takes time to write these things, I know that first hand. And thanks for supporting the craft of photography.
This article by Ilona isn’t about photography, but it is about fucking trolls. “Ever since the dawn of the internet, there have been trolls. These broken, deeply insecure people love nothing more than to bring others down to their level by preying on their insecurities.” What’s great though is if you’re not insecure it don’t mean shit.
UPDATED March 7 2018
Today marks the seventh anniversary of my departure from corporate America. Having been a small business for seven years has been both rewarding as well as remarkable. I so appreciate the tenacity and grit it takes to be a small business owner and collaborate with other small businesses. I have found that the intelligence and business acumen of those who run their own small businesses eclipse those I worked with in corporate America for over 38 years. It’s not for everyone, but for those who have always aspired to ‘be their own boss‘ be prepared to do it all, and to enjoy the rewards. If I can do it in the most expensive part of the country, the Bay Area, so can you.
March 7 2011 was the day I was laid off from my last corporate job. Unlike most of my colleagues who move to different companies, but remain within the same industry; I have been in a wide variety of industries. Law enforcement, security, retail, insurance, broking, energy, sales, marketing and finally software. My titles ranged from individual contributor to Senior Vice President, then COO of a Fortune 100 company. Company cars, paid monthly parking in downtown San Francisco, expense accounts first class travel you name it I had it. I was a suit…..
No matter what my job or company I always had my ‘back up plan’ just in case my day job went south. Those plans included skills in woodworking, fabrication, computer repair and finally photography. It seems I never felt fully secure in any company even though I received continual accolades and promotions. Nope it always occurred to me that it could all be ‘taken away’ at a moment’s notice. So when my last job at PlayStation ended when the HR person and my boss (the worst boss of any of my 38 years in corporate America. The worst part is the executives knew she was horrible, yet did nothing) let me know ”Your job has been eliminated” I was both relieved and surprised. You see my boss had told me that the meeting was about a “Powerpoint” presentation she wanted me to review with her.
When I heard their words I looked at my now former boss and said “Gosh then there is no need for you to be here. Why don’t you go find something else to do?!” And she quietly got up from her desk grabbed her purse and left. Tracy, the HR person went over my severance package, told me I was not allowed to go back to my office or talk with anyone. She asked to write down anything in my office that are personal items I wanted returned. I said “No need. Two months ago I took all of my personal possessions home.” She asked why and if I was sure. “Yes and I have hated how I’ve been treated here for six years so there was no need to have anything personal in my office.” She then said smugly “So now you can pursue your little photography business.”
I had been moonlighting as a part time (what some people call ‘semi pro’) photographer for two local theatre companies. My girlfriend and I were partners in those shoots. Since I had a highly paying day job there was no need for her to have full or part time employment. She did some graphic and website design from home to earn money. So when I went home that day at noon, and told her the news, she seemed shocked.
As I began a search online the next week for new ‘jobs’ I thought to myself, “Mark, it’s time you man up. Do you really want to invest time and your dignity into going on interviews with thirtysomethings and be asked questions like ‘What is your five year plan?’ and then responding with ‘Fuck you!’” It just would not be conducive to being hired or worse being hired. So with 30 years of business development, management, finance, sale, marketing experience and a love for photography I decided it was time to man up and pursue my dream.
My finance mind went to work right away since unlike others I didn’t have the safety net of a working spouse with benefits. So I tightened down my expenses and calculated what I would need to survive those first five years of being self-employed. And then the biz dev side of me took over. Little by little I obtained more clients. I never did any advertising so all of my new client work was through word of mouth. Several key people were instrumental in helping me grow the business by recommending me to others. For that I will always be grateful. I’m also not arrogant enough to not believe that luck and timing has much to do with a person’s success. One of the advantages of having a varied corporate background is most people simply consider me as just a photographer. I seldom if ever discuss my background, but it’s such an advantage.
And along the way I noticed something I had never done in my entire previous working life….I didn’t have or want a backup plan, no Plan B, no nothing! I was all in and discovered that doing what one loves to do automatically eliminated the desire for a Plan B. Sure the money was much less in the beginning, but the people I encountered and have befriended on this journey along with the experiences make everything else pale in comparison. The quality of my life is beyond what I would have ever imagined. And it all has to do with my love for what I do. It’s the people, it’s the rich experiences that I so adore.
UPDATE February 22 2018
During a client session they allowed me to experiment using my Elinchrom 69″ with focusing arm. Here are the results
UPDATE January 5 2018
This month I have several sessions where I will use the focusing arm with my Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octabox. Elinchrom sells their Elinchrom 75″ Indirect Litemotiv Octa Softbox which is an inverted modifier. But unlike using a focusing arm the strobe is confined to a set distance from the modifier. Oh and not to mention it’s about $1100.00 USD more expensive than my 69’r!
UPDATE December 31, 2017
Over the past two weeks I have been giving my new virtual friend Ulysses my experience using focusing rod modifiers. We’ve gone back and forth over FB Messenger as I answered some of his questions and concerns. It was during this time I realized that some people may not have any idea how a focusing arm paired with a parabolic or other modifier would benefit them. So instead of answering another email I decided to post this (My last post of 2017 btw) to benefit anyone who may have questions about focusing arm modifiers, their benefits and downsides. But are put off by their prices.
I found what I view as one of the most informative lessons on some of the benefits of a focusing rod on a YouTube channel. Karl Taylor and Urs Recher, two pro fashion shooters do an excellent job explaining the benefits of focusing arm modifiers. You can view that video here.
If you begin to watch the video and think or say to yourself “Oh sure if I had the money to buy a $7,000 Broncolor Para 222 Mark I could do anything!” STOP READING NOW and go about your usual business.
I’ve posted elsewhere why I have switched to focusing arms modifiers and this post is about how you can do it with relatively simple ease. And just as important for a fraction of the cost of Broncolor, Briese or Parabolix. Of course the shape of the modifier you use will have a bearing on your results, but unlike people alleging you ‘have to have’ a pure parabolic shape I disagree based on my own actual usage. I love my Parabolix 35D, my Cononmark 120cm and my Westcott Zeppelins which I use with a focusing arm.
The best thing to do is to buy a Parabolix focusing arm from their site. They use a standard Profoto attachment to mount their modifiers to the focusing arm. The arm is excellent and well made. To attach the arm to any Bowens modifier you simply purchase a Haoge Profoto to Bowens Mount Speedring Ring Adapter.
Viola! You now have a focusing arm that will work with any Bowens modifier! And you don’t have to go through the crazy fabrications like I did when I built my first one. (I just like doing that kinda stuff tho….)
Prior to figuring out that method I fabricated all kinds of things! My other solution was to purchase a Cheetahstand Chop Stick and modify it to accept a Bowens modifier. It took some doing and it works well. Someone mentioned that Edward at Cheetahstand stated that his Chop Stick will work with most Bowens mount modifiers and that’s true….to a point.
For travel it’s a toss up. My DIY Cheetahstand Chop Stick with mount weighs a total of 4 pounds 13 ounces including the rod. The Parabolix weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces. For space the Chop Stick comes apart thereby having the ability to save space when packing. Not so with the Parabolix arm. Weight or space? It’s up to your needs. The Bird Cages which hold the lights are not included in these weights, but I have described their weight above.
So there you have it. This will be my last post about how to develop your own focusing rod. I have sessions to cover and don’t really have the motivation to talk more about this subject. I post this in case you want to do it as well.
As I was growing up my father was always in the garage tinkering. During his lifetime he was a professional auto mechanic who was in a partnership in a Mobil Gas station. I’d work there in the summertime when full service was the norm. Later he became a civil engineer. He and I shared lots of good times in our home garage building things which were usually motors or crazy inventions. One of the aspects of life he taught me early on was “Boy there are people who will bitch that someone hasn’t invented or built this or that. Or they’ll bitch about how something is designed. Basically they’ll bitch about anything instead of trying to figure out how to fix it or inventing something themselves. Don’t listen to those assholes, if you need something that ain’t around, figure out how to build it and build it. I’m not raising no bitch, so just remember that!”
To this day I’m not sure if I never wanted to be ‘a bitch’ or I just plain enjoy figuring out how to do things. It’s one of the main reasons I HAVE TO HAVE a garage. Not to store shit people never use, but to fabricate things. I find it relaxing. And I must admit that my former racing motorcycle which is now the world’s most expensive towel rack does sit in my “Man Cave.” I just can’t bring myself to sell “Ashley.”
Anyway I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that I adore focusing arm modifiers. I won’t go into all of the reasons, but one of the most frustrating things is every single manufacturer of focusing arm modifiers makes it so that their arm only works with their modifiers. Broncolor, Parabolix, Briese, Cheetahstand, Westcott, you name it, they can’t be used with other modifiers. I did find out that the Parabolix line of focusing arms will work with any Profoto mount. Their focusing arm uses the same attachment as Profoto so if one purchases a Parabolix focusing arm it will fit any modifier that uses a Profoto mount.
But many of my modifiers are now Bowens mounts. It’s my preferred modifier mount since I exclusively use Flashpoint/Godox strobes/heads now. As I examined Cheetahstand’s Chop Stick I discovered that I could modify his focusing arm so that it will allow me to attach ANY Bowens mount modifier to the focusing arm! It took quite a bit of modification and a bit of cussing, but now I have a focusing arm that will accept any Bowens modifier INCLUDING HARD MODIFIERS. What? WTF you may be thinking, hard modifiers Mark? Well I’m gonna try them and will report back later. Why not?!
I’m sure some people will ask questions like “Will it support the full weight of X or Y strobe?” What about if the modifier is not a true parabola?” To the first question, I’m not sure and I don’t really care because I’m not a manufacturer of this for retail. I made it to solve a problem. I plan to always use the remote head for the AD600. As for the second question, who cares?
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.
UPDATE December 9 2017
I recently conducted a two day session using two eVOLV200S mounted to an AD-B2 unit shot through a Cheetahstand Quick strip box. The strobes were used as second key lights combined with my xPLOR600 with remote head shot through a CononMark 120CM focusing octa modifier. The units performed well and the stopping power of the units is excellent. I shot all sessions using a Pentax 645Z whose sync speed is limited to 1/125th of a second. During jumping action shots the strobes froze the action of the talent jumping. I’m continually pleased with the performance of both the eVOLV and xPLOR units. It should also be noted that I was able to complete two full days of shooting without charging either the eVOLV or xPLOR units.
Full crop of the necklace to illustrate the stopping power of the strobes.UPDATE October 20 2017
My client has incorporated some of my publicity imagery into their marketing campaign.
UPDATE October 12 2017
In my review of Cheetahstand’s Quick Stripbox and Lantern I have shown my lighting setups for a different dance troupe. You can view 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 8 2017
In my post about the Parabolix 35D I have some of my recent client work which was just released.
UPDATE September 7 2017
I wanted to illustrate how I add lights during the session below.
First I see how I want the exposure using the Cheetahstand lantern as my overhead light.
I want to make this simple. The ONLY reason I use a piece of gear is because I have found a piece of gear which works for me. I have long given up on most review sites with the exception of three I trust. I do listen to other pros I know personally if they find pieces of gear that work for them. It doesn’t mean those items will work the same for me, or vice versa. I am LOYAL to companies that service/warranty/customer service the products they carry with integrity.
I was recently hired to create some promotional imagery for a dance troupe. They have an upcoming performance this Fall and wanted me to create some marketing imagery. For this particular shoot I am not tied to an NDA so I am able to use some of the images and BTS shots I created, providing I don’t mention the troupe’s name. This posting is part review, part explanation as to why I choose what I choose for my work.
I often chuckle when I hear/read folks discount or complain about items “Made in China.” Sure I would love to purchase items made in the USA or specifically California, but this is a century which is global where items are made everywhere. Apparently innovation is now global….. (LOL) I remember the day people use to tease me that “Made in Japan” meant the items were ‘cheap’ and poorly made. Well guess fucking what? Times have changed….
I HATE putting together softboxes, HATE IT. So when I read that Edward had designed and manufactured a ‘quick’ softbox I was skeptical. You see I have used Westcott’s Rapid Box line and although they are fine, I never really like the design. So I ordered one of his Quick Stripboxes and was duly impressed when it arrived. I especially like how he includes a fabric grid with his products. The mechanism that expands the four captured rods is genius. And the material he uses is of good quality.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite lighting techniques is rim or back lighting the talent. Normally I’ve used gridded strip boxes, but when I happened upon the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern I thought it may solve one of the issues I have with strip box overhead lighting. By using an orb the light would be more evenly distributed on my subjects. Photographing dancers often means they MOVE around and are often out of the sweet spot of a strip light. The light produced by the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern is smooth and more natural looking for my work. To keep the unit’s light from spilling onto the background I cut an old PCB umbrella and use it to drape over the lantern. When I want to direct light other than straight down, I simply use some wooden clothespins to roll the material up to expose the lantern. Works great! Oh and assembly of the lantern is so easy. Love omnidirectional light when needed.
On a different post on my site I’ve done an initial review of the Parabolix Deep 35. I was not yet able to display any photos due to NDAs, but am able to do so here. I will simply repeat that the modifier is very well made and the focusing arm and pivot is top notch. The light produced is wonderful. Is it three times better than my CononMark 120? For me not three times better, yet it is wonderful.
My point to this post is I’m not influenced by brands or theoretical ‘views’ by other ‘photographers’ who love to spew out their views without any imagery. I try to find what works best for me and presents a good value. I value my freedom above all else.
Three of my fellow pro shooters are sponsored by photographic house hold names. In each case when I’ve said “Hey have you tried XYZ’s new lens/strobe/etc?” they respond with “Ugh I can’t because having agreed to be sponsored by ABC Company means I can’t use XYZ’s stuff.” I get it though; getting expensive gear for free is cool. But for me the freedom to use what works for me, means a ton more than free gear.
In the end it’s what I produce that’s more important than what brand of this and that I use. If people believe that a specific brand or model of anything is going to make their work better, then they need a reality check. HOW YOU USE any tool and HOW YOU USE YOUR IMAGINATION are the most valuable assets you can own.
And since I just received an email from a client I consider quite a hard ass who SELDOM hands out ANY compliments which said, “You my talented bad ass brother…is the man…” after viewing some of the shots, I’ll stick to my own methodology.
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.
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.
This has nothing to do with photography, so if that’s what you’re after you can stop reading.
Nope this is about two simple things I’ve done in the past eight months that have literally changed my patterns of life. Like any ‘normal’ person who owns his own small business I had a perfectly satisfying routine. Work, do business development, edit, practice, shoot, send emails, go on vacation, sit in front of my computer. It was a nice satisfying life and like most people I’d go on vacation to relax.
What frustrated me to no end was whenever I stayed at hotels for client work, many of them have those wonderful rooftop patios with fire pits, lounging areas and wonderful views. Yet I never really got to enjoy them due to the very tight shooting schedules I maintain. The other issue is I found that I didn’t get outside as much as I like because I tied myself to my computer. So here’s what happened that enacted changes for the better than I could ever imagine…..
I have raced motorcycles all of my life. My Dad thought it would be a great idea to keep me out of trouble, make me save money for gas and bike parts and delay my desire to ‘be with those kinds of girls.’ “If it has a period or uses gasoline boy, it’s gonna be expensive!!!” Yeah my Dad was THAT kind of Dad. (he was right though….LOL) So from motocross to desert racing to road racing I LOVED two wheel competition. But when I finally figured out I’d never be the next Valentino Rossi I hung up my leathers for a camera. Yet the need to be on two wheels never left me. And racing, riding a bike on the street didn’t hold any appeal. I had taken to mountain biking for a while riding a Specialized Hard Tail with a front Rock Shox. But on a very muddy winter day I landed on the cross bar with my two soft parts and had to go to the hospital, to have one ‘drained.’ I’ve been in my share of hand to hand battles, been kicked in the family jewels plenty, but nothing felt like being ‘drained’ by a physician. So I gave up mountain biking.
But when the whole ebike thing appeared I was intrigued. I followed a Kickstarter campaign for over a year that was developing an electric mountain bike. I’d been burned by two Kickstarter campaigns so the thought of losing 1k of my money didn’t appeal to me. Then while on vacation I visited an ebike shop right across from the hotel. The owner asked if I’d ever ridden an ebike and when I said “No” he rolled out a full suspension mountain bike and simply said “Get on and take it for a ride.” And once I rode up a San Francisco type hill just in front of his shop I WAS SOLD. It ended up that my girlfriend got one too since the shop owner wanted to trade a film of his shop for her bike. Shit, I had to pay for mine!
Then once we got home I started to think about my backyard. It’s not a large backyard since I live in a townhome in the Bay Area. But I started to map things out I wanted that I saw at hotels; a hot tub, a fire pit, some lounging furniture. I began to figure out “I can do this, and not for a ton of money.” So after doing my normal Excel Spreadsheet calculations I found out that instead of going on an annual vacation, we’d spend the money on the patio. Between Amazon and IKEA the items you see in my patio became a reality.
But the point of this whole thing is now I find we’re outside when we’re not working. We’re riding our bikes all of the time and even though it IS exercise, I never think of it that way because IT’S SO DAMN FUN. We ride to dinner, pack dinner and ride to the sea. And the patio? In the morning we have coffee out there, lunch out there, dinner out there. We sit in the hot tub before bed time. My ideas for new shooting scenarios have grown. Why? Because my routine is different, my mental attitude is different than before. Change can be scary. But changes like these can be wonderful. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what you want to do with life and then take action.
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.
Every morning I go out to my patio to turn on the water feature because the hummingbirds like it. They drink and bathe in it very often. On the ground I see a small “something” and just then a hummingbird flies around the ‘thing‘ and I see that it’s a baby male! My gf comes out, picks him up and warms him with her hands. And just after I take a few ‘portraits’ of him, he flies away. Making a normal morning something very special!
UPDATE August 14 2017
I am honored to have been a finalist in this contest. I’m most proud to have been able to tell my family’s story.
A long time friend sent me a text message with this photo attached:
He suggested I enter this contest not for the money, but to express how I view Japanese American Culture. I thought about it for a week and then decided to enter. I feel so proud to be Japanese American, as a race we have endured much. Japanese Nationals feel that if ‘we’ had been successful in Japan there would never have been a need to move to the US. People here didn’t trust us upon our arrival. And the United States sent American Citizens of Japanese decent to Internment Camps during WWII “For our own protection.” Which was such utter fucking BULLSHIT!
Actual Posters from the 1945 era:
The official US Notices
Here are my submissions and the stories behind the imagery I created.
“The real reason you can’t quit Facebook? Maybe it’s because you can judge your friends.” You can read the article here.
UPDATE 6-6-17 “It’s far easier to unleash a half-truth than it is to correct it.”
Today I read an interesting article by Christie Aschwanden about her experience leaving social media. Her views very much mirror my own with the exception that I have not returned to the FB rabbit hole. Her article is well worth a read.
Original Blog Post
Back in mid-October 2016 just before the Presidential election the mood of Facebook along with the country took an ugly turn. People overtly and covertly began to show bigotry toward me as well as others. For me Facebook has never been a vehicle for real change, although there are some things like helping individuals that work through social media. I found that Facebook made me ‘feel’ as if I ‘may’ be doing ‘something’ but in reality it was just masturbation. The good of keeping ‘in touch’ with people who had moved away or people I had not seen in many years was a positive part of the social media giant, but for me nothing of substance was there. It was a time burner. In May I had a stroke after my mother died in April and when the doctor told me to quit smoking or I’d risk a stroke that could leave me paralyzed on one side of my body. So I quit…cold turkey. Had she said that I would die if I had another stroke, well I would have gladly kept smoking. The thought of being dependent on anyone, most of all my children or my partner was enough to convince me to quit. Even though I LOVED SMOKING. The positive result of my stroke is I found so many things trivial. I had found pettiness and trivial people and attitudes poor in the past but the stroke sharpened my keen sense of what is important to a new level.
One of the side results of using Facebook for a while was becoming accustomed to small ‘snippets’ of information, the thing I swore I’d never succumb to…the USA Today method of reading. Much like how news is presented to us in ‘new cycles’ newspapers often have very short and often unedited content. So in summary I wanted to return to the ‘old school ways’ in which I was raised. To meet with people in real life, to build physical things, to help those face to face and to greatly reduce my ‘screen time’ so that I didn’t become a drone who has a screen in front of my face more than I cared to admit. I no longer wanted to have convenience trump the effort it takes to have real life face to face relationships.
For my first week ‘without’ social media I found I missed it, yet it also showed me how dependent I had become on its use. Funny that smoking was much easier the first week to do without than Facebook. This showed me just how bad my habit had become. After about a month people asked about me through our business Facebook page which Tracy found a bit irritating. But those who really wanted to contact me did so the ‘old fashion’ way, through email or those who are personal friends through texting.
I ventured out to the Mohave Desert to do a photo shoot with Pato and Eva which took us a year to plan. I made friends in real life with five remarkable people who I never knew before. I started to build things again in real life. I began to read and write. And slowly but surely I began to become ‘old school’’ once more. Then tragedy struck….
The Oakland warehouse fire happened in a building called the ‘Ghost Ship.’ 36 individuals died in that fire one of which was Jenny Morris, a close friend of my son. Jenny was only 21 years old and her death affected me as if she was my own child. I cannot begin to fathom the sadness felt by her mother, father and brother. Like grief I have experienced in my life my sadness comes in waves, in ebbs and flows just like my son’s sadness. Grief is not linear in healing. My son and Jenny had broken up a year ago and had they still been dating I’m sure that he would have died in the fire as well. He would have done all he could to save Jenny and others at the cost of his own life. The thought and possibility of losing a child makes everything else pale in comparison.
So how I use Facebook will be different than before. I may or may not feel like posting photos here or “Liking” this or that. I will be more of a lurker and when the mood strikes me, leave again for a time. I found that my creative ideas and feelings were much stronger when I was not participating on Facebook and I cannot explain why, but it does not matter.
So what I can control and do in my real life that isn’t dependent on social media is to be kind to others, to help in a way that is meaningful. And I will follow the words of John F. Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
UPDATE October 23 2017
Four flats in 1200 miles….is that normal? Well I found that the OEM tires that came on my Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC were light, but fragile. Schwalbe Racing Ralph Performance, 29 x 2.25 pinched the inner tube like nobody’s business. Granted I am far from a hard core MTBer, but since I raced motocross for many years I love to bomb downhill when the need arises. It seems that that’s when it happens, a flat. Front, rear it doesn’t seem to matter. So I switched to Maxxis Tread Lite Dual Compound EXO Tubeless Ready 29er’s. Much more robust sidewalls and the tread pattern is more suited to the type of riding I normally do. Hard pack dirt covered by gravel, pavement and some sand. The Tread Lites are not full blown MTB tires, but then again I’m not hard core MTBer. I believe in using the right tool for the job at hand. I laughed when I raced a Honda RC51 because I used Dunlop slicks and when talking to street riders they wanted to know why I would not run slicks on the street. Enough said…..
I continued to run tubes in my Maxxis tires and guess what? More flats. So I switched to tubeless by converting my OEM rims to tubeless ready using:
Not including the tires the conversion is about fifty bucks. I still carry a tube in case I get a flat out on the trail, but being able to run much lower air pressure when needed and only worrying about large cuts in my tires is much better. How hard is the conversion? Easy!
UPDATE: September 29 2017
On December 23 2016 I purchased my Haibike Fullnine RC from Motostrano in Redwood City and took delivery seven days later. With 1100 miles on my bike I can safely say that it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made in my life. That includes umpteen motorcycles, handguns, knives, cameras, etc. What makes it so different is that whenever I ride I feel like a 12 year old kid who is getting away with something for free! No matter how foul a mood I’m in or how tired I may feel, once I get on “Sofia” and begin my ride I forget about all of the shit that put me in a bad mood. It’s the same feeling I use to get when I would smoke. I’d go outside by myself and literally “Zen Out” while I smoked. I’d have some of my best ideas about photographic concepts while smoking. Giving up smoking literally paid for Sofia after ten months! I don’t have a regular commute and I live in an area where I only have to ride 1/2 mile to get to the wonderful Bay Trail. Yeah I’m a lucky SOB, but I’ll tell you, it’s literally changed how I look at life now. Go figure!
I ride my Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC almost every day. I don’t have a ‘daily commute’ so I ride for pleasure or for errands. That includes fire roads with steep hills, paved paths and street riding to do errands. Sometimes I need navigation to assist me so I use Google Maps which has a bicycle feature which takes me on routes I’ve never done in a car. Well Duh Mark of course since I’m on a bike. I searched long and hard for just the ‘right’ mounting unit for my cell phone (a Galaxy S7 Edge) to mount to my bike’s handlebar stem. You see I want my unit in the landscape position and most of the cell phone mounting solutions are for your handlebar and in the vertical position. I’m not using my phone for anything other than navigation on my bike. Here’s what I found is the best for my needs, a Sahara Sailor Phone Bike Mount. It fits perfectly on a head stem and holds a phone very securely. I highly recommend this unit.
I never mean to be an early adopter, but tend to be so with new strobes. Lighting is developing much more rapidly than cameras or lenses. But this is about a new passion of mine, riding my ebike, a Haibike Sduro Fullnine RC. Ebikes are new to the US and relatively unknown, yet are popular in Europe where using any type of bicycle for transportation is mainstream. I began my interest two years ago when I noticed a Kickstarter campaign for an eMTB called the Flx bike. At 1399.00 USD it was ‘affordable’ enough to interest me, yet since I had been burned by two crowd funding campaigns I was not excited enough to commit 1400 bucks with the chance I would not get shit. You should know that they have delivered on their product and many of their owners are thrilled with the product.
In the Fall of 2016 I was vacationing in one of my favorite locations, Avila Beach, CA. Across from my hotel is Pedego Avila Beach which is an electric bike dealership. Upon entering the store Glenn, the owner asked if I had ever ridden an ebike. When I replied “No” he said “Well we’re gonna change all of that..” and immediately put me on a Haibike hard tail mountain bike. Just outside of his storefront are two hills just like those in San Francisco. As soon as I began peddling up the hills I WAS SOLD. A mid drive, centrally mounted battery made the Haibike feel just like a normal bike, but with power that made me feel like Lance Armstrong with blood doping to the max! So I told myself that I would buy one right away.
Upon returning home to the Bay Area I found a local dealer, Motostrano in Redwood City. So I purchased my bike from Joe at Motostrano since he was running a killer sale in December. In March of 2017 I had saved enough money by quitting smoking that it paid for my Haibike Fullnine RC!
You can read all about ebikes online by searching along with all of the haters calling ebikes “Cheaters.” But just like all things such as ATM cards, snowboarding, digital cameras, chairlifts (yes there was a time when you had to WALK UP THE HILL to ski), ABS braking, etc. humans always resist what is ‘new’ and out of the ordinary. It’s really all about fear, fear of change fear of the unknown, fear of something new. So often it’s negative talk from those who feel they are the ‘purists’ like skiers who didn’t want to share the hill with new snowboarders, film photographers who felt and still feel digital photography lacks ‘soul’ or now mountain bikers who feel eMTBs are ‘cheaters’ and ‘bad for the trails.’ Hell I remember when Brownie Instamatic film cameras were shunned by ‘real photographers’ because the new little film cameras did everything for you including exposure! Hahahahaha. Fuck haters. They usually want to ‘keep’ their domain all to themselves and elite.
I love riding my ebike simply because it’s so much fun. I’ve raced motorcycles both on and off road all of my life. No my ebike does not have a throttle nor do I want it to have one. I have to pedal and I love that. So much so that I find excuses to ‘go somewhere’ or run an errand just to get on my ebike. Yes I’ve had a traditional mountain bike before, but rode it much less often than I do my eMTB.
I’ve given up trying to explain to people how it feels. In my crude manner I compare it to trying to explain to someone what a fantastic orgasm feels like. Go ahead; try to explain that, the FEELING of one. It’s the same about an ebike; the feeling is something that makes me smile every single time I ride. When I first got a digital camera off eBay I rediscovered the Bay Area by going to places with new eyes. On my ebike I ride to places I’ve been many times, but with a new outlook. I do Costco runs with my bike, I pack a dinner and go for a dinner ride with my girlfriend. I run errands like going to the bank, the hardware store, the donut shop on my ebike. It’s a complete joke and when my doctor asks “How often do you exercise?” and I have to remind myself that I do so every single day. I don’t think about riding 12-20 miles a day as exercise because like having a great orgasm it’s such a great feeling! (Not to worry, an orgasm is still better, but you get the point about having to feel something to KNOW)
Picking the right ebike is up to each individual. Renting one or several in your area or attending an ebike convention where you get to ride various models is the key. There are plenty of “Meet Ups” where people who love/own/are curious about ebikes gather just like photography meet ups. I’ve never been a ‘meet up’ kinda guy, but they are damn valuable for many people. I can simply say that I’ve never had anything in my life that is so much fun and enjoyable that I can do WHENEVER AND WHEREEVER I WANT TO DO SO. Not having to load my race bike on a truck or trailer, driving to the track, get fuel, etc. Sure those days were a complete blast, but the quiet joy of riding through neighborhoods, up in the hills, around town is so simple and sweet. One of the things I’ve missed about racing motorcycles is the ‘wrenching’ and although it’s on a MUCH more simple level with my ebike, it brings back some of that fun.
I don’t have a ‘commute’ per se since my job has odd hours and I often am on an airplane. But if I did have to commute and it was 10-20 miles each way I’d definitely use my ebike to go to and fro. Not showing up to work sweating because I’ve bucked a headwind or up hills to work is epic. More importantly, it’s just fun.
The questions I’m most often asked:
- Do you have to plug it in? – Yes to recharge the battery
- How far will a full charge allow you to go? – It depends, on High, into high wind or up steep hills maybe 20-30 miles. In Eco mode on flat ground probably 70 miles
- Does peddling recharge the battery? – No
- Do you need a license? – No
- Does it have a throttle? – No, not this one, but some ebikes do have a throttle.
- How long does it take to charge? – I’ve never drained mine completely so I cannot say. When my battery has been down to 30% it has taken about 1.2 hours to fully recharge.
- Where is the engine? – It’s attached to the crank on this model.
- Can you recharge the bike on solar power? – No
- Does the bike come with a headlight and taillight? – No I installed those myself.
- California eBike laws
- The Rise of the eBike
- US Forest Service Guidance
- October 07, 2015 California eBike Legislation, Assembly Bill 1096
My favorite ebike retailers
I have always believed that as a professional photographer I should always continue to pursue personal projects. Projects which have nothing to do with imagery I create commercially. I find that it helps expand my view of the world, beyond that which is just ‘pretty’ or pleasant to view. Gorgeous people in beautiful outfits are easy to shoot. I also believe that in our world of immediate gratification I needed to maintain projects which take time to develop and those which require collaboration.
In October 2015 I began a project titled “Our Perceptions, Ourselves.” A pictorial study about how each of us views our own appearance in contrast to how we are viewed by others. My thought was to try to find a forensic sketch artist who could draw a specific person and then have several different people describe that same person to the artist. I would then paint the actual subject’s face white and project each sketch onto their face and photograph them with each sketch. I thought it would be both unique and interesting by adding a third dimension to a 2D image even though I was converting it back to a 2D image. In addition it invests the subject in the drawn perceptions of how others view them. My plan is to have at least 12 individuals with three separate sketches, varying by age/race/gender.
In December 2016 I was searching for a portable printer and discovered on Amazon a small printer called the PickIt. What attracted me beyond its size was that it used dye sublimation rather than ink jets to produce the image. In my former life I used dye sub to print marketing materials so I was impressed that such a small unit used the same technology.
On December 2, 2016 tragedy struck not only the Bay Area, but my family when the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland claimed the life of 36 young adults. One of them was Jenny Morris who just turned 21 and was the former girlfriend of my son. Jenny and my son dated for about 18 months, but had ended their relationship almost a year prior to the tragic fire. In many ways I feel blessed that my son did not perish in that fire. Had he and Jenny still been a couple I’m positive he would have been at the event and perished along with the other young adults.
Throughout my life other men I’ve known often talk about “The Unicorn” which in my circles means a woman who like the mythical horned creature exists only in fantasy. Too good to be true, too wonderful for reality yet an entity we all wish and hope is true.
Three years ago I was hired by a ballet company in Dallas, TX to create some promotional imagery for their troupe. It was at that time I met Christy. A bubbly positive young lady who like her fellow dancers is incredibly athletic and talented. I’m fortunate to meet so many talented artists and at first Christy fell right into that category to which I’ve become so accustomed. And believe me, I know I live a charmed and blessed life.