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Category : Things to ponder

20 Oct 2017

Why I Love What I Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 Sep 2017

Why I use: xPLOR/Cheetahstand/Parabolix/Cononmark/etc

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.

A reluctant assistant stands in while I balance the overhead light. I find that the lantern is much more to my taste for an overhead light.

Then I add the rim lights using the new gridded Cheetahstand Quick Strip Boxes. I am only using the inner diffusion panels.

At this point I add my key light the Parabolix Deep 35 in its mid focused position.

And finally I move my camera right gridded rim light to illuminate her downstage leg to my taste while using the Parabolix in its fully focused position to capture her face.

Original Post

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.

Cheetahstand

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….

Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick StripBox 

Well made, easy as pie to erect (versus put together), wonderful light, what’s not to love?

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.

You can see the Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick Strip Box in the background. The lantern is on a boom and I’m using an old PCB umbrella to control spill. My Parabolix Deep 35 was my key light.

The pair of Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick Strip Boxes in use. Those are symphonic musicians and a composer….Hahahahaha

Lit with only two Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick Strip Boxes.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern 

I only wish I used a lantern earlier!

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.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern and two strip boxes used.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern as the key light for this shot. The even light distribution is what I love about his orb!

This illustrates how I’m using the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern as my key light and two strip boxes.

Parabolix 35 Deep Package 

So well designed and manufactured. Beautiful light.

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.

Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head used in a gobo head. Parabolix used as a fill light fully focused. Rear light is a coned xPLOR600.

Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head used in a gobo head. Parabolix used as a fill light fully focused. Rear light is a coned xPLOR600.

Parabolix used as a key light fully focused. Lantern overhead and both gridded strip boxes used as perimeter lights.

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.

01 Sep 2017

What inspires me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eye makeup applied so the ladies are good to go!

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

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

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

Day Two

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

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

One of Natalie’s final shots.

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

22 Aug 2017

Changes

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.

05 Aug 2017

To Studio or Not to Studio?

My partner and I went back and forth for quite some time about whether or not we wanted to invest in a long or short term lease on a studio. In the Bay Area real estate is very pricey, much more so than other areas of the country. But that is not the primary reason we opted to NOT put our money into a studio. I think there are photographers who can easily justify a studio which includes much more than just the rent. Sure it would be so much more convenient for me to have a studio instead of lugging gear and assistants to and from locations. But, and this is a BIG BUT for me, I would get bored, completely and utterly in about 2 shoots. Why? I bore easily and shooting against seamless or bringing in props, constantly building sets, etc. would drive me to the point that I may decide to return to a corporate job! (No way really…)

For me the world is the best studio, the absolute best for my work. But sometimes for a variety of reasons my clients cannot arrange to shoot on location so I shoot in rented studios or spaces which are convenient to the client. Flying the talent in, housing them, using Union makeup/hair/wig/prop you name it staff is expensive. Transporting them to a studio far away is inconvenient to many clients. You’d be shocked at how some of the ‘studios’ I work in are crazy cramped or awful from a shooter’s standpoint. But a big part of being a pro is working with what you got.

But there are times when a client wants ‘more’ than just seamless but doesn’t have the budget to house or transport all of the talent to the perfect location. So a rented studio for the day or week, or better yet a warehouse is what I use. This is where light/atmosphere and theatrical type modifiers like gobos can make a scene more effective. Whenever people ask how I create different looks in studio I just say, “Watch movies, look at the light/environment and figure out how to make the scene you’re watching. Imagination is insanely more powerful than any new camera gear. And simply having an idea is not good enough. You need to actually make it happen.”

Using the Mohave Desert for a backdrop. Yes it’s lit with strobes and I used my smoke machine.

Driftwood structure built on the beach. Strobes and smoke used.

Publicity shot for Les Miserable shot on location in a rock quarry. It was daytime using three strobes.

One of several ballet shots done in Dallas TX using smoke and strobes. On location in front of an art sculpture.

Publicity for the play Assassins shot in an alley.

Using the wings of a stage as the environment for a publicity shot for Cabaret.

Recently a client ‘wanted’ to do their publicity shoot on location, but since scheduling of the talent and the availability of the venue didn’t jibe we shot in studio, a rented warehouse. By using atmosphere and special light modifiers the client was pleased.

Preparing for the shoot as wardrobe and makeup is applied.

The whole point of this posting is to help you decide if a studio is something you ‘have to have.’ In my case it is not simply because the type of work I do constantly demands new looks and feelings for my client base. Every shooter has different needs and there are no ‘right or wrong’ answers.

28 Jul 2017

Baby Hummingbird

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!

09 Jul 2017

Personal

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.

Nikkei Photo Contest 2017

Contest images.

Original Post

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.

Title: Endure My uncle, Harvey Kitaoka was the very first Japanese American Naval Aviator and flew over 100 missions off of carriers in the Korean war. He was decorated for several sortes. When he passed away his wife, my aunt was presented with his military folded American Flag. All of my relatives were in internment and stripped of their property. Yet each of them served in different branches of the US Armed Forces, the older ones in the famed 442nd group. My aunt in this photo was a US Air Force surgical nurse. Executive Order 9066 is a horrible stain on our country.

Title: Pride My paternal grandfather came to the United States to find a better life for his future family. He arrived alone, unmarried. It’s not clear why, but he arrived on the East side of the US, rather than though Angel Island like most Japanese immigrating to the US. His money only allowed him transportation to Utah. He walked the rest of the way to California following the railroad tracks, eating food thrown from passenger rail cars. Once arriving in California he found work with the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was during this time that he found his wife, my grandmother through a bride catalog. Corresponding by mail for a year, he then returned to Japan to marry her so he could bring her back to his new life here. Upon retiring from 20 years with the railroad he was given this gold watch. He and the rest of the family were placed in internment during WWII and all of his property was seized. After he was released he worked and purchased property for his children in Crenshaw California, a bad neighborhood. Yet he endured, even through the most unfair part of US history. He truly embodies our cultural heritage.

Title: Quiet Strength My aunt and uncle are pictured here. Like most Nisei couples displays of affection were not ever shown. As a matter of fact I can never recall either my mother or father ever hugging me. It was just not ‘the way.’ Both of them served in the US Armed Forces after being in internment during WWII. She served as a surgical nurse in the US Air Force, he as the first Japanese American US Naval Aviator during Korea. Both were very unassuming and quiet, but with strength like no other people I’ve known. I told them specifically that I wanted them to hold hands when I created this portrait. They seemed reluctant at first, but once they touched their expressions said everything I wanted to know. THIS is how I view JA cultural heritage.

08 Jul 2017

Decide for yourself

My very first professional publicity shot. Canon Rebel XT, EF70-200 f2.8 Mark I lens. I bought the Rebel off of eBay and the lens off of craigslist. And no the client didn’t ask me about the gear, only how much I would charge for the image.

I’m writing this Musing because I have recently realized that so many ‘photographers’ or rather ‘technographers’ like to pontificate about statistics, theory or the physics of anything from parabolas to t:1/t:5, WB, half stops, full stops, color temperature, blah blah blah. I had a colleague who was so obsessed with Histograms I use to tell everyone that he carries a picture of the histogram of his wife in his wallet, since he likes ‘it’ more than the picture. It’s not just photographers but any activity where people like to ‘be right’ rather than create. While researching bike locks one of the members of a forum (yuck) asked “Well will the lock survive a portable angle grinder attack?” For me that’s akin to asking “Will that second chance vest stop a .308 Teflon coated round at 25 meters?”

All of us like to research gear and look over the stats, etc. But there are very few items in the world that are 100% bullet proof and appreciated by the same percentage of people. The most important person to impress is the person buying the item. But even more important is how we USE the items we purchase. Cameras, lenses, modifiers, strobes, constant lights, reflectors, barn doors, toilet paper, oil dip sticks, cookie sheets, these are all JUST TOOLS. Have you ever noticed that those who love to argue and ‘talk’ about how right they are seldom if EVER link to their work? I’m not talking about ‘test shots’ of some shitty wall, book, or inanimate object. Or IF they do, their work is pretty shitty. Or MAYBE they lucked out and got one ‘nice’ shot. I don’t give credibility to anyone who yaks about technical stuff but never puts a link to their body of work. Money and statistics can’t buy or add up to creative and imaginative work. Statistics are easy; you just repeat ‘facts’ that may have very little if anything to do with how an image is created. Let us SEE you know that of which you speak (or type). We all know that 2+2=4, but what makes YOUR calculation so different and better than that?

Of course no one wants to make a ‘mistake’ when buying gear. But life is about making some mistakes. Some of the best shooters I know make tons of mistakes to get that epic shot. Borrow or rent the gear you may want to own. Actually talk with people who have used the gear you covet and ask them how they like it. Make yourself available to assist a shooter who you know uses the gear you want. But remember, as an assistant the shooter is doing YOU a favor, not the other way around. UNLESS you’re a pro assistant and have been for several years AND you’re getting paid!

Using is better than reading the opinion of those who don’t produce great imagery. Most important, don’t be a ‘brand conscious’ shooter. What you PRODUCE is what your client will appreciate, not the gear you used to make it.  Decide for yourself.

06 Jun 2017

My Reasons for Leaving Facebook

UPDATE 7-17-17

“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.”

08 May 2017

Why I love my ebike

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:

The aforementioned Maxxis Tread Lite tubeless ready tires

Stan’s tire sealant

Stan’s Presta tubeless tire valves

Stan’s tubeless rim tape

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!

My daily ride.

One of the piers on the way to my favorite donut shop! LOL Seriously I ride to the donut shop!

UPDATE: 5-24-17

It’s hard to describe the pleasure I get from riding and exploring my area.

UPDATE 5-21-17

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.

The mounting band and prefabricated curve is perfect for a head stem.

The unit mounted on the stem of my Haibike where I’ve installed a 90mm head stem.

My Galaxy S7 Edge is held perfectly in the Sahara unit.

Original Article

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.

Mother’s Day Ride 2017

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.

Riding along the shoreline in Pismo Beach underneath the pier was a complete blast!

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!

Riding in the cypress grove of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Half Moon Bay was amazing. I’ve been there hundreds of times to photograph dancers and nudes, but it was like I rediscovered the area.

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.

Crossing the Bay on the Dumbarton Bridge to go to the East Bay is amazing. And the park Coyote Hills has the most challenging hills I’ve descended and climbed to date. OMG what fun!

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.

If I wanted my ebike to have a throttle I’d go back to doing this, a REAL throttle. Turn 5 Laguna Seca.

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)

It was at this very spot I encountered a man with his wife and son who asked me about my ebike. I encouraged him to ride it so he could FEEL how it feels to ride. His wife asked my girlfriend “Is there anything special here to see?” OMG if someone needs to ask something like that in scenery like this, they need to go home and watch some reality TV on their fucking iPad. Unbelievable.

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.

Packing lunch or dinner to ride around my house ain’t exercise! Even if we ride 16 miles before or after dinner.

A favorite spot to ride from my home in the evenings.

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.

A damn great view reward after climbing the most challenging hill to date. Steep, long and full of gravel – a true trifecta! Pretty cool that we rode all the way from the land mass in the background of this photo. That’s the Peninsula area where we started.

The questions I’m most often asked:

  1. Do you have to plug it in? – Yes to recharge the battery
  2. 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
  3. Does peddling recharge the battery? – No
  4. Do you need a license? – No
  5. Does it have a throttle? – No, not this one, but some ebikes do have a throttle.
  6. 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.
  7. Where is the engine? – It’s attached to the crank on this model.
  8. Can you recharge the bike on solar power? – No
  9. Does the bike come with a headlight and taillight? – No I installed those myself.

An idiot’s view of what happens when you lock your bike to enjoy lunch and then remember you didn’t bring the key!!!!

Links:

My favorite ebike retailers

10 Apr 2017

Our Perceptions, Ourselves

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.

The subject views Naomi’s sketch of herself as she describes herself to Naomi.

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.

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07 Mar 2017

Manning Up

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…..

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08 Feb 2017

Sparking an Idea

Jenny Morris

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.

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09 Dec 2016

Living Eulogy – Christy Martin

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.

Goofing off at Graffiti Town in Dallas, TX between shots

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.

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24 Mar 2016

AD360 or AD600?

600 v 360

Godox AD600 GodoxAD360

Gah! I’ve gone back and forth on which I’d buy if I was considering both. I have two AD360s and one AD600. All are the manual versions, as I don’t find TTL good for my work flow. And I should also state I don’t use speedlights of any brand or kind. I just find strobes better for my work. So I made a laundry lists of my personal likes and dislikes:

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14 Mar 2016

Portraiture – My Own View

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PPA’s March 2016 Magazine

This morning I was reading the March 2016 edition of the Professional Photographer’s Association (PPA) magazine article on portraiture. Before I began I thought to myself “Oh just another article on technical aspect of portraiture, lighting, posing, etc….yawn….” But as I read the article my mind was completely changed about its intent;

“I didn’t understand until later that it is all about the connection you make with your subjects.” he says. “My father understood that, and that’s why he was so beloved. He got to know his subjects and made portraits that were about them, not just pictures of them. It’s all about the harmonic resonance that you set up between yourself and the subject you’re about the portray.” – Arthur Levi Rainville

…”For Rainville, portrait photography boils down to two key elements: the art and the heart” – Jeff Kent, PPA

How wonderful to read an article about portraiture which matches my own view. I have always believed that a portrait, a great one, is a conspiracy between three people, the subject, the photographer and the viewer. I often see portraits that are technically very well done, but without any feeling. They are simply photographs of the person’s physical likeness, but contain nothing about the inner portion of the person. In my view the most important element.

DSCF8833

PPA’s article “The Connected Portrait”

And there are also photos I call ‘cheaters.’ These are the portraits of physically pretty women which primarily show them clad in skimpy outfits, revealing lots of tits and ass. Often they are shown with what they and the photographer feel are provocative expressions, which so often appear contrived or forced. Many people (especially men) feel it’s a great photo, but the reality is it’s much like having someone walk an American flag into a room to garner applause.

Yes light, pose, expression are all a large part of a great portrait. But those are simply the basics. All of those elements should accentuate the person’s soul, who they are in that moment and should never be the ‘star’ of the image. Technical knowledge and expertise is a given in portraiture. The part that is most critical to the image is to reveal who they are as people, their soul in the moment. Rainville’s style;

“To create a mansuesco portrait, Rainville schedules a planning session, during which he often spends more time with the client than during the actual portrait sitting.”

Sometimes the amount of time we have with the talent is limited to the time we have them in front of our lens. In those cases it’s up to me to research the person, to know what they like or what they don’t. Not in terms of photos, but in terms of life. And if nothing exists to research then my research must begin as soon as I meet the person. Engaging the person is more critical than snapping the shutter or figuring out the technical details of their shot. Those items should be second nature. By far the largest aspect of any portrait is trust. In the moments I have with anyone I must convey to them the fact that they can trust what I’m about to do. That their feelings are the most valuable elements in the session. What someone was born with from their parents has nothing to do with their portrait. It’s what they developed, who they are that separates a ‘nice’ portrait from a great portrait.

I study the work of Greg Heisler and Joey Lawrence because I feel their style of portraiture is something I strive to achieve one day. I strive to achieve a story in a single image whenever I embark on creating a portrait.

And if by chance you ever feel that as the photographer YOU are the most important person in the room, find another vocation. You simply don’t get it.

John Caird

John Caird

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A Texas Couple

tasi

Tasi

portrait 2

Naomi

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Greg

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Charles

 

28 Feb 2016

Living Eulogy – Reginald Ray-Savage

Gosh I guess it was about five years ago I was introduced to Savage as he likes to be called. I had done some work for Juan at Teatro ZinZanni who recommended me to Savage when he wanted to have his dance company photographed. Savage works for the Oakland School for the Arts and is also the Artistic Director for Savage Jazz Dance Company. When I first met Savage I was amused that he had a ring on every finger of both hands. Unlike me, he dresses well and is very fashionable. They were in rehearsal and so he pointed me to an adjacent room where the shoot was to take place.

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Reginald Ray- Savage

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25 Feb 2016

Pretty Is or Pretty Does?

skin 1

I am in a dilemma. All over Facebook, the internet, really everywhere I am bombarded by ads about skin retouching  software. And when I see other photographers who post images of women and in some cases men as well, the amount of retouching is so great that a person’s skin looks plastic. No pores are visible, teeth are ultra white, eyes have no veins. It makes me think of the old movie “The Stepford Wives.” Men had their wives murdered and replaced with women who looked the same, yet were ‘perfect’ in every way including skin, breast enlargements, butt lifts, you name it.

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20 Jan 2016

Living Eulogy – Maria “Tracy” Martin

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“I have no idea why you’re making me use this lens Mark. I’ll never have use for it.” -2007

This is a new series I’ve started. I’ve often wondered why we reserve eulogies for when people die. I’ve attended far too many funeral services and wondered at each one, “Why do we wait’ to ‘tell’ the people in our lives why we adore them, funny stories known so often to only a handful of people?” It seems insane to me so I have decided to write about those I love or admire….while they are alive.

Tracy is my life partner, who also happens to be my business partner. Together we are simply known as “Mark & Tracy” the folks who take photos for different art agencies. Tracy is the ‘nice one’ the one who seldom has a harsh word to say about anyone, even the most vile people we know. Part of it is because she’s Canadian, they apologize for everything! When she first moved to California she would obey every single rule. It use to drive me nuts that she would not even cross the street on a green light if the pedestrian little man was red.

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14 Jan 2016

What Makes a Great Portrait?

You may find this Musing ironic since I chose to include only a single portrait in this article about portraits.

I make my entire living photographing people. It’s what I love to do, because I love people. To date I estimate I’ve photographed over 1,000 faces of all ages and ethnicities. My preference is to photograph men simply because I find them more versatile in nature. What does that mean? I find that the majority of women only want a single dimension of their ‘appearance’ to be shot one way…for beauty. Men on the other hand are more open to be photographed as rugged, sad, angry or in a myriad of other ways besides ‘handsome.’

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