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25 Nov 2018

A Book by Its Cover – Updated 11-25-18

Update November 25 2018

It’s been over three years since I wrote this article. Since that time I have had the privilege and experience working with other disabled individuals, primarily those who are deaf. Antoine Hunter, a deaf dancer who I photographed for the magazine “The Pool and Joshua Castille a deaf actor who appeared in Hunchback for 5th Avenue Theatre are both remarkable in their abilities as artists. My work with both Christine and Sarah along with those who I’ve come to know since then has forever changed my life. Just like ‘White Privilege” it’s tough for anyone non white to understand the meaning of that phrase. So often when I bring it up (if at all) to whites, they immediately go on the defensive, as if they’ve done something wrong. No in 95% of the time that’s not the case. Privilege of any type often goes without any conscious thought. It just ‘is.’ In the very same way ‘able body privilege’ exists for which I have been guilty, but without meaning to be guilty. Not experiencing first hand being disabled doesn’t allow one to truly KNOW the feelings/experiences/hardships of what was once just a right.

My partner recently sent me a New York Times article that hits very close to home, Revelations in a Wheelchair by Nolan Ryan Trowe. It is especially poignant because he is a photographer. He became disabled due to a cliff diving spinal injury and decided to use his photographic skills to document how able body privilege works.

This month the Camp Fire near Oroville, CA recorded the largest wildfire in California history. A 62 year old woman who was wheelchair bound due to a stroke managed to escape despite her disability. This is especially poignant to me since after caring for my mother for three years before her death, I suffered a stroke 22 days after her passing. I am forever grateful that my stroke has not left me with any visible disability. 

I know that many people visit my site to learn about my experiences with ‘gear.’ But the most important part of my life isn’t gear. It’s the people I meet and befriend. I hope you find that in your life as well.

Original Article June 29 2015

Three years ago I was inspired to be uncomfortable when I met and worked with Adrian Blue, a deaf actor/director. He immediately struck me as an individual I wanted to know, and even though he would read lips I was motivated to learn ASL, at least enough to sign a few sentences. I’ve always been crappy at languages, but I noticed I had more of an aptitude at ASL than I did in learning French!

Do you think you know me?

Do you think you know me?

It was during my interaction with Adrian that I realized I knew NOTHING about people with disabilities. Growing up I had one family friend who had been born with Down’s Syndrome. I was not very popular in school simply because I was the only Japanese American, but each and every time Karen came to visit, she would run up to me yelling MARK! and gave me the largest hug I’d ever received. I noticed my father was very uncomfortable around her which bothered me quite a bit. He own discomfort arose from not knowing what to do/say to her. It was while watching his reaction that I realized growth can come from placing myself in ‘uncomfortable’ situations so I could grow as a human.

So for the past two years I have embarked on a personal journey to learn more about those with disabilities, to educate myself about something I know very little about. I originally started with a young girl and have now worked with two young women who from birth have used a wheelchair. My voice is to use photography in describing how I see my world and those who interact within my life. How despite each person’s handicap we are in the end more than our disabilities. And each of us has one or more. Some are visible, some are not. How we deal with our own disabilities determines how we will live our lives. How we view our brothers and sisters will determine how we view our world.

At the end of this project, at least the photographic part I will amass all of the lessons I have experienced at the grace of those who have allowed me to share a part of their lives with me. But for now I will simply say that we are all the same, we are all human souls who all want the very same things; love, respect and community.

 

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.”

11 Mar 2019

The Death of Customer Service – Updated 3-11-19

Update 3-11-19

INCREDIBLE! AT&T actually published my negative review on their site! Perhaps there is hope for the world!

Original Post March 10 2019

RIP

First of all this has nothing to do with photography. Nothing. Yet it has everything to do with what the world is witnessing in the decline of brick and mortar stores. Like many others of my generation (Baby Boomers) it saddens me. Institutions that were once retail icons, Montgomery Ward, JC Penny, Sears, Kmart now only exist either in history books (meaning on a Kindle now) or are about to become history. As a young man I was so fortunate to work for Mervin Morris of Mervyn’s Department Stores. Throughout my life he has been my Gold Standard for both leadership and customer service. “Nothing happens without a sale.” was just one of the many values he instilled in his employees. I was with Merv 11 years, even after he sold the company to the Dayton Hudson Corp which is now Target Corp.

I like to keep my ‘things’ for longer than most. My cars generally live with me for 20 years. I like to pay cash for things as I deplore payments. Five years before I know I will need a car, I make a monthly car payment ‘to myself’ placing it in a savings account. Then when I’m ready to buy, I purchase the car cash. It’s just how I roll.

So when I knew it was time to purchase a new cell phone I waited for the Samsung Galaxy S10+. My S7 Edge was getting long in the tooth, or more specifically short in the battery life. I had normally purchased or upgraded my phones at AT&T stores. But having passed the wireless sales booth at my beloved Costco for so long I decided to purchase it there.

So on February 26, 2018 I went in and preordered my S10+ and was happy to discover that those who pre ordered their phones would receive Samsung Buds free, a $130.00 value! Without going into all the gory details here was the comedy of errors caused by the salesperson “Jack” who is NOT a Costco employee, but an employee of the in store Costco vendor, Wireless Advocates:

The email I received to confirm my preorder came to my email address, but the name of the addressee was “Jack.”

  1. I went back the next day and he corrected the name. I asked him at that time if my prepaid AT&T plan would be accepted, he assured me it would be.
  2. The day before picking up the phone, which was also the LAST DAY one could quality for the Buds was 3-7-19, the day I was there. I had not received the last two of the three emails specified on the handout I was given, and I got worried. I again went back to Costco, spoke to Jack’s manager and he assured me that they received enough AT&T phones, so not to worry.
  3. On 3-8-19 at 10am I went in to buy my new phone and guess what? The manager told me he could not sell me the phone because I was on a prepaid plan. I left without a new phone and could no longer qualify for the complimentary Samsung Buds.

I was PISSED. I came home and wrote a two page letter about my horrible experience, printed it out along with all my supporting documentation and hand carried it to the Costco assistant manager. She was incredible. Her listening skills were right out of Merv’s handbook. She was GENUINELY empathetic and kind. She let me know that she would let the store manager know as well as the staff at Wireless Advocates. Merv would be proud of her for sure!

So my girlfriend, bless her heart said “Let’s go to the AT&T store right by the house Honey. You can get your phone there, OK?” So off we went and I told the clerk I wanted to buy the S10+. When I told him I had a prepaid plan he then said “Oh, I’m sorry we can’t sell you a phone for a prepaid plan.” “Wait so you’re telling me I want to pay cash for the phone, I’m with AT&T and I can’t buy a phone?” “No you cannot, AT&T does not do that. But if you go to Target or Best Buy you can buy one.” WTF. So Target is in the same center so off we went. When we found the lone clerk in the “Tech Department” I said I’d like to buy a S10+. He said the phone salesman just went to lunch, I’ll call him. So he did and then told us “He will be back in 30 minutes.” WTF? So if the ONE phone salesperson is not there, NO ONE can sell a phone? So the next time you need an ambulance and the guy is out to lunch, he will pick you up in 30 minutes!

So we left….

By this time I was more than pissed, I was completely disgusted by the total lack of customer service by brick and mortar locations. So I got online and looked up AT&T, called the Hillsdale location only to be met with voicemail jail. Round and round and round until I finally hung up. Then I got on the AT&T chat line with an agent named “Steve” and who really knows where he works. I asked him two specific questions:

Me: “Does the Hillsdale location at Zip code 94403 have any S10+’s?”

Steve: “Yes they have ten in various colors.”

Me: “Will they accept a prepaid plan for the S10+?”

Steve: “Yes they will.”

I printed out the entire chat conversation and put it in my jacket.

Once I arrived at that location the sales person Jayson A approached me. At that time I stated that I wanted to purchase an S10+. He immediately told me he was sorry, but they were all out of stock. I then produced the print out of the chat conversation I had with Steve 10 minutes earlier. He called over his manager who said “We have some in stock, only white though.” I told Jayson A that was the color I wanted and I was glad to have not taken his word on the stock in the store.

He then went to get the unit and once he came back he asked “Do you need help setting it up?” I replied, “I just need to put my SIM card into the unit to see if it works.” He then told me that the S10+ comes with its own SIM and he had activated it. Uh the box was still sealed and unless technology has changed one MUST remove the SIM from the credit card size holder and PLACE IT INTO THE PHONE. When I told him of that fact, he sighed, opened the package, removed the SIM card from the holder and placed it into the phone. It took time to activate.

I believe that since I was paying cash for the phone, did not want a postpaid plan like he asked me about even though I was SPECIFIC about keeping my current plan he wasn’t making a commission. I understand that but his level of service was so poor, so uninterested it will be of no surprise if he no longer works there much longer. Or even worse, he is the ‘new customer service normal.’

The series of poor customer service situations I experienced was not confined to a specific retailer. Wireless Advocates, Target, two different AT&T locations just did not want me to buy a $1,000.00 phone. And in a time when cell phone sales are on the decline it’s even more shocking. I literally had to be tenacious in my quest to spend the money. Based on yesterday I cannot wait for all brick and mortar stores to go the way of Montgomery Ward. Well except for Costco, REI and Nordstrom, those few locations in my experience who embody the Baby Boomer’s definition of customer service, you know service and knowledge.

 

13 Jan 2019

Saberstrip v2.0 – A REVOLUTIONARY modifier – Update January 13 2019

January 13 2019

I continue to be absolutely amazed at the flexibility and versatility of the v2.0 Saberstrips. As of this writing I do know that Scott has not yet offered these for sale to the general public. The reason I continue to post my findings here is in hopes of motivating some of you to contact him to ‘hurry him along‘ in the sale of these modifiers. In addition to dance, their form factor and quality of light make them invaluable in my tool kit. Seriously – combined with the AD200 strobes I feel they are a revolution in modifiers. Here are just a few of the in studio dance imagery created using these lights.

An AD200 is the strobe.

My general configuration of the v2.0 Saberstrips for this session. The converted Fresnel and the 69″ Elinchrom I have converted to a focusing rod modifier are actually used for FILL, not as key lights for this dance session.

  

Update November 19 2018

I continue to be so impressed how using two v2.0 Saberstrips can produce the light I so love which could only be created with a ring light. But the huge difference is since the lights are NOT attached to the camera, I can use a long lens, yet keep the lighting near the talent. This was taken with a Canon EF 85mm f1.2 lens. The versatility of these modifiers is incredible.

Not to mention my use of them in dance imagery creation.

Several of you have written to me asking when Scott will release these modifiers. I highly suggest you write to him on his website to ask. I continue to encourage him to release these modifiers.

Update October 14 2018

I recently conducted a studio dance session using three Saberstrip v2.0s combined with a Mole Richardson Fresnel spotlight I have converted to a strobe. I continue to be so amazed and impressed by the versatility and light quality of the second generation Saberstrips. As I’ve stated before I’m just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished with these remarkable lighting tools.

My general placement of the SS’s for the dance session. I am able to control on/off levels using my R2 controller. The ability to place the hair/rim light so close to the ceiling is remarkable.

Here you can see my general placement of the Fresnel spotlight which has been converted to a strobe which uses a Flashpoint 1200ws head.

Each of these images were created using a combination of Fresnel/Saberstrip light modifiers. 

Update September 17 2018

Yesterday I conducted an all day dance session. I found that utilizing three v2.0 Saberstrips with 3 Flashpoint AD200s produced remarkable light for studio dance. Rim lights, using two Saberstrips and one overhead light produced the exact mood I was trying to achieve. Seriously this combination is incredible for my dance work.

How I configured the Saberstrips for the dance session.

The results…

Update August 1 2018

I recently used the v2 Saberstrips in on location sessions in Seattle. Man I could not have done it without them! You can read about it here.

I have also completed a publicity shoot using two Saberstrips for a West Side Story publicity image as shown below.

Two v2 Saberstrips in parallel to the ground. I just love the look of this light configuration.

Original Post

Like most other folks and way before I began shooting as a full time pro, I had a day job. It was during this time I discovered a very unique light modifier called the SaberStrip. What was so intriguing to me is its shape and the quality of light it produces. I was a bit suspicious when I first received my Strip because it seemed like ‘just a high quality shipping tube’ with some rip stop nylon as the modifier’s cover. Also this was back in the day when I was almost exclusively using speed lights, but had two PCB Einsteins for my ‘studio work.’ And this was well before the advent of built in radio receivers in speed lights, so I had to use a pigtail cable connected to my speed light inside the tube to attach it to the Phottix Transmission receiver I was using at the time. A bit of a hassle, but it was the only thing that existed at the time, which was ‘high tech’ for that era.

Although I loved the quality of light it produced, for me the power or rather lack of power of the speed light relegated the Strip to my closet. I tried to fabricate my own ‘Strip’ for my Einsteins, but found out it was not as easy as I thought. So I basically gave up and moved on to other things.

In 2013 I decided to create a series of images about the hands of artists which included both performing as well as creating artists. Since I wanted to shoot the talent in their natural environments I found that all of my ‘normal’ modifiers would not work well due to space. In some cases I had literally 10 inches or less to place a light and modifier to light the talent! So as I was rummaging through my gear closet I happened upon my Strip that I had doomed to its lonely existence in the back of my modifier closet. Eureka! That’s the perfect tool for this job and since most of the venues I was shooting in were very small I would not need a ton of light power so my speed light would do just fine.

By happenstance the Director of the Peninsula Museum of Art saw one of my images and asked to see the rest. She then asked if I’d consider having a solo exhibit at the museum the following year. I politely told her no and when she inquired as to the reason for my decision I simply replied “I don’t think my work is good enough for a museum and I think it would be very narcissist to do that.” She simply smiled and said OK. Later one of the artist I know mentioned that he had heard I was offered a solo museum exhibit but turned it down. Werner asked me if I ever go to museum exhibits to which I responded “Why yes, I love going, why?” His response was typical Werner, direct and to the point; “Well quit being so fucking selfish and let others enjoy and be inspired by what you’ve created Mark!” I’m seldom if ever at a loss for words but I had nothing to say. So I contacted the Director and agreed to display my work which I titled “29 Hands, 15 Artists.” With the exception of one of the images, all were lit with my Strip and a speed light.

Fast forward to today, 2018 and I was made aware of SaberStrip’s v2.0 version of the Strip which accepts an eVOLV200! In March 2018 I was shipped two advanced copies of the modifiers to test to see if I could offer any feedback. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

The 200 is inserted into the bottom of the modifier through what I call the “Tractor Tire” the designer fabricated it to attach the 200. I believe his design is to offer strength to the mount. I simply like to think he liked Tonka Trucks as a kid! The knurled knob on the left in this photo is the turning knob that screws the 200 in place. The other nice design feature is you can eject the battery of the 200 without removing it from the modifier, a very thoughtful design element.

Sorry for the shitty camera phone blurry image. The red thing you see at the top of this shot indicates that the screw is NOT attached to the 200 which is a very nice feature. One of the things that I found to be a design issue, it’s very easy to over tighten the screw. There’s no need to do so because it makes it VERY difficult to unscrew the unit from the mount. I learned the hard way and had to use a screwdriver and hammer to loosen the screw.

It’s also not possible to let the eVOLV slide down into the tube because there are ribs on the interior which keeps the strobe from sliding too far into the unit. I believe he may have other plan since those interior ribs seem to be reinforcements for four exterior metal nipples. Barn door or grid accessories for the future? Perhaps.

I painted a directional arrow on the housing to indicate which direction to loosen the mounting screw.

What the interior looks like in the v2.0 Strip. You can see the reinforcing supports which prevent the eVOLV from sliding too far into the tube.

Although most people will not have to do this, I ground down the mounting peg that is cast into the housing. This allows me to easily insert the peg into female mounts I use to place the modifier in either a vertical or horizontal position. Although the v2.0 Strip works extremely well in stands which offer the mounting peg to be in a vertical or horizontal position, not all light stands offer that option. When I travel to other cities I often have to rent stands and not all rental houses have adjustable spigot locations on their stands.

This is why I needed to shave down the diameter of the molded peg. It would not fit as cast. I find these female spigots invaluable in my gear bag.

I plan to use these to mimic a ‘ring light’ because I can now leave the modifier and strobe very close to the talent and back away to shoot with a long lens. Not possible with traditional ring lights. Also since the eVOLVS have modeling lights in the Fresnel head I now have a modeling light in this configuration. Sure, not brightest modeling light, but way better than none.

My first test was with Bob outdoors for a ring light style lighting test.

Canon 1DXII EF135 lens ISO 100 both AD200s set at 1/8 power. 1/5000th f2.0

Canon 1DXII EF135 lens ISO 100 both AD200s set at 1/8 power. 1/8000th f2.0

In those instances where I want to place the v2.0 Strip close to the ground I will simply use a Godox S bracket as a base. This configuration will be perfect for dance shoots as fill lights or anytime you wish to place the units very low onto a flat surface.

Comparison

  SaberStrip v1.0 SaberStrip v2.0 w/2 eVOLVS and SS
Light Flashpoint Zoom R2 Evolv200  
Flash weight 17 oz 31 oz  
Power level Full Full  
Distance to Sekonic 5 feet 5 feet  
Shutter Speed 1/100th 1/100th  
Aperture f5.6 f11 f13
Time to Recycle 6.8 sec 1.57 sec  
Length of fabric 29″ 29″  
Width of fabric 2.25″ 2.25″  
Length of modifier 38.5″ 34.75″  
Diameter of modifier 3.5″ 3.5″  
Saberstrip Weight 19 oz 27 oz  

For me the most significant stats are the recycle time and power. It’s the very reason I stopped using my original speed light Strip, it just lacked power. And in my work a one second delay feels like 12 years. Human expressions change in a nanosecond and invariably it’s the money shot I wanted, but missed because the strobe was recycling. Two full stops and five seconds faster in recycle time makes this modifier an incredible tool.

The ‘tube’ freely rotates around the mount so it can easily and conveniently turn the fabric to any position needed. There’s also a very small 1/4 inch 20 screw hole in the ‘tractor tire’ housing. I’m not sure why the guy put one there but it’s damn convenient. I plan to place a female mounting stud in there so I can either mount the Strip with the built in male stud or a female one. It should be noted that if you place a long ¼ 20 screw into that hole it will stop the free rotation of the tube. So IF you are the anal type and want to lock down the tube’s rotation you can do that with this screw hole.

This coming weekend I have three personal project shoots and I plan to test the light quality and applications in those sessions. I’m not sure how many times the Strip v2.0 will be my key light, but now that the recycle times and the power available through this meets my needs I’m sure it will always be in my bag.

Having a stand, a strobe and a modifier all in one easy to transport package is great for run and gun shooting, especially outside in moderate to high wind. My preferred stand for these is the Neewer Light Stand, 114 inches/290 centimeters Stainless Steel Heavy Duty with 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch Universal Adapter. It has a removable spigot that can be configured for either a vertical or horizontal female mount which is perfect for the new Strips. They are well made, strong and inexpensive.

The number of ways to mount the Strip seems endless. My current favorite grip mount for the Strip is the Matthews Mini Grip Head. I modified it by drilling out one of the holes to 9/16th of an inch which fits the Strip’s 5/8th inch stud.

What I like:

  • High quality Construction
  • Built in male mounting stud
  • Ability to rotate the modifier around two axis
  • Accepts the Evolv200
  • Well balanced, having the strobe at the mounting end of the modifier
  • Very wind resistant
  • Will fit into very tight spaces

Improvements

  • Male stud needs to be the 5/8th inch size standard of all spigots
  • Wheel that attaches the strobe needs to have directional arrows.
  • Wheel needs to prevent over tightening

During the weekend of April 21st 2018 I had my first opportunity to use the v2 Sabers in studio. I wanted to determine if paring them in a horizontal way would give me the ring light type of affect. I’ve always loved the look of a ring light shot, but have been frustrated that the distance of the light to the talent is limited by the focal length of my lens. Using my ring light further away to compress the talent’s face meant that the light is also further away, causing a harsher look. But using two Strips horizontal to the ground with the ability to adjust the distance between them allows me to leave the light source close to the talent, yet move further back to use a longer focal length. Having my cake and eating it too is wonderful!

The images below show how this worked on Jessica and I’m very happy with the results. Shot with a 135mm prime lens.

The flexibility of being able to angle the pitch of the Strips and distance between them is wonderful. More control than a ring light. As a fill/rim light I have not experienced a better modifier. Reflectors make great fill or rim light modifiers, but I have always preferred strobes for that task. It allows me finer control of my fill light.

By changing the angle of the top Strip in the image of Jess with her arm above her head I am able to cast a bit of a shadow on her eyes while filling in under her eyes to prevent shadows. That flexibility allows me to create nuance shadow/highlights with the Strips.

Here I am using the Strips as a fill and rim light. All of these images are three light shots. My 10” Fresnel is the key light, a gobo modifier is used on a light to create pattern on the background and the Strip is used as a fill/rim light.

The control of the Strip as a fill light is quite lovely and can be used as subtle or as bold as you wish. Here are two more images I created using two SS’s in parallel as a ‘ring light’ but in my view with a much better result.

Erica is 50+ and just the use of a shallow DOF and the two SS lights produced this image WITHOUT the use of Photoshop.

Two SaberStrips v2.0

Three SaberStrips v2.0

Oh and large groups in moderate to strong wind? I was recently at a client to cover the high school musical awards and prior to the event kids assemble outside. It’s often a fun place to get group shots before the show. The issue is always crowded sidewalks and of course crazy high school kids. I shot this image with ONE SS and one eVOLV200 at HALF POWER. 

1/100th f5.0 ISO100, SS v2 is the modifier and the strobe is the AD200 set to half power. Can you say incredible? It’s crazy.

I recently visited Luna Cycle in El Segundo to do some documentary photography of the staff. In the vast majority of cases the SS were used due to their flexibility and light quality. As in my 29 Hands Exhibit I was able to use the SS to light the talent in places where it would be almost impossible to fit a modifier in the space I had available and achieve a quality of light I wanted. Below is an example of one of the shots.

This is the ‘natural light’ scene where I was to photograph one of the young ladies who performs logistics for Luna Cycle.

Removing some of the boxes and shooting the light through the bookcase produced the image and quality of light I was after.

My apologies as I know you won’t be able to ‘unsee’ the image that follows, but to date it illustrates the rim lighting capabilities of the Strip. During this session I was to shoot two Drag Queens. The fella on the left is 6-1 without heels and with his 4” heels it makes him 6-5! I used the Strip as a rim light and if you notice the illumination from head to toe it’s quite remarkable. Could this be accomplished with a gridded light? Of course it could. But due to the very slim shape of the Strip it allowed me to get as close to the back drape as possible keeping spill to a minimum and certainly much less than a softbox without a grid.

Outdoors with the Strip is quite good. It is ‘almost’ impervious to wind, high wind. It is more wind resistant than my go to outdoor modifier, the PCB Omni. The disadvantage is since the Strip uses the AD200 it is a full stop less powerful than the AD600 I use with the Omni or my Aputure Fresnel head. But to circumvent that disadvantage I often use two Strips as a key light when outdoors. And in those instances where I want a very large light source I use three Strips configured in a Y shape. I find it’s the equivalent to a 45” octa with 600ws of power. Ever use something that size out in moderate or high wind? And I use all three on a single stand.

My partner recently conducted a head shot session using two of the Strips. She used one as the key and the other as a rim light. It was very windy under the concrete bridge where she was shooting and the Strips barely wobbled. The light quality is excellent and easily replicated her preferred modifier, a Glow 36” Octa. But in that kind of wind, especially the gusts that occurred an octa would have been quite the handful. She does prefer the catch light of the octa, a personal preference to which many people may agree. I happen to feel that round catch lights are the default, yet in natural light a catch light is anything but round…..

As you can see the quality of light produced by the Strip is excellent. Two lights, both Strips. One as the key light the other as a rim light.

Is it the perfect modifier? Nope, but as of right now there is no perfect modifier. Just like there’s not a perfect camera, lens or person. Is it the most versatile modifier I currently own or use? YES! For me the v2 Saber Strips are revolutionary and I have not even scratched the surface of how they can be used. Thank goodness for the AD200 lights and Scott’s development to incorporate them into the Saber Strips! Scott has mentioned that the v2 versions which use the eVOLV200s will be available in late July 2018.

25 Feb 2018

Flashpoint AD-B2 Review updated February 25 2018

UPDATE February 25 2018

I’ve written an on location post where I’ve utilized both the AD200s and AD-B2s.

UPDATE January 26 2018

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

UPDATE 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.

The two eVOLV200s in the AD-B2 can be seen behind the Cheetahstand Quick Strip box in the center of the seamless.

Full body shot of the talent as she performed a leap into the air.

Full crop of the necklace to illustrate the stopping power of the strobes.

UPDATE October 2 2017

I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.

UPDATE September 10 2017

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

UPDATE August 25 2017

Although this is not specifically about the Flashpoint AD-B2 you can see how I’ve used one with a Parabolix 35D for a recent commercial shoot. And although I won’t be able to share any images for about two months it worked fantastically! 

UPDATE August 21 2017

I did a little test getting 1.3 more stops of light out of an S Bracket.

UPDATE August 20 2017

So yesterday I did something I have a tendency to do… over reach. Using different lighting configurations, new/different modifiers I wanted to test them all in one night! What an idiot and no I did not test them all!

I am booked for a shoot next week where I will be filmed in a BTS segment that is part of something else (can’t say). I’m told it will be shown in movie theaters nationally to promote one of my clients. My partner has admonished me to NOT dress like the homeless as is my normal couture style! So I plan to take two of my AD-B2s to do an executive’s head shot and needed to test my ‘theory’ if they would work. My partner who is the film maker must haul all kinds of gear up with her as well as my own so our combined weight/space limits will be at a premium for our flight.

I’ve always loved what I call ‘clam shell portraits’ which may be a term only I utilize. I’d venture to say that if you Google that term it may result in images of clams… My definition is using two modifiers stacked one on top of the other while shooting through the gap between them. In the ‘old days’ I would use a reflector on the bottom to bounce light up toward the talent. I know many pros who love doing it that way. But now I only occasionally use reflectors because the control I have over modern strobes makes using a reflector seem a bit old fashion. Anyway the other thing I wanted to test was to determine if my little clam shell configuration and the AD-B2s with eVOLV200s were strong enough to do full body portraits. Oh and if you’re concerned about the catch light in the talent’s eyes, using a lower reflector produces the same double catch light…..

So what do I think? I love the AD-B2s! Here’s why:

Is it worth the $39.05 price difference between the S Mount bracket? For me it is. Compared to an S Bracket I get more light out of it, can combine two eVOLV20os if I so desire AND I get a modeling light! Now if I used my AD360s more often I ‘may’ rethink my stance, but I’ve found I rarely use them now and only when I need them as extra lights. And even then I don’t get a modeling light, but since they’re rarely key lights it doesn’t matter. The convenience of having a modeling light for me is key. Sure getting a bit more light out of the AD-B2 is nice as well, but functionally for me the one thing that was lacking with the S Bracket was a modeling light when using the eVOLV’s bare bulb attachment. I depend on that to obtain focus more than to see what my light will look like.

So here’s how I used them for the test:

The top modifier is a Glow ParaPop 38″ Portable Softbox for Bowens mounts. I love how fast this thing sets up and the light it produces is creamy. I am using both the inner and outer diffuser in it. The bottom modifier is the Phottix 27.5″ Luna Folding Beauty Dish, White with the diffusion panel attached. If you’re wondering why I’m using the older USB triggers on the flashes, it’s because they allow me to use HSS with my Pentax 645Z. Also only one bulb was used in each of the AD-B2’s.

Please don’t mistake Cheyenne’s distance from the modifiers as the way she was when I photographed her. These images are my secondary thing to snap, as they were JUST for you guys. I had forgotten to take several shots and said to her “Oh shit, I forgot to take the BTS shot of the BTS! Can you just stand there for a minute?” My main purpose was to test my theories.

When I read/see other reviews I’m always a bit put off by seeing the ‘final polished’ shot that has gone through post processing/retouching/etc. I understand why most do that, the model’s desire to only have shots of them posted that way. Or photographers who only want to show their final work. But for me I find that an unretouched image really shows me what I’m looking for with light. OH and I know that most shooters like the expression of their models to be ‘serious or sultry‘ which is fine. But when that’s all I see I find it becomes myopic. So for this test along with my others for the Parabolix I asked Cheyenne to be herself. It’s just one of the reasons that makes her so damn beautiful.

I used a black backdrop for two primary reasons. First I am a big user of rim lights and wanted to see how using my clam shell method would help separate the talent from the background. I specifically chose Cheyenne due to her dark brown hair which can easily get lost against black. I love the look a traditional rim light gives the talent, but other times I want the separation to have a different less obvious look. For some work I prefer this look over a traditional rim light. The second reason I used black is in another review of the Parabolix modifier.

UPDATE August 19 2017

Later this evening I will be testing many different modifiers along with the eVOLV ADB2. But until that shoot I wanted to share some things other may find useful. First and foremost one of the little irritating aspects of the Godox S Mount bracket and the new eVOLV ADb2 is its ratcheting handle. CLICK CLICK CLICK Dammit why is it so hard to move?! I think I understand why it was designed that way, but it was an irritation to me. Instead of bitching about anything I was taught to come up with a solution. So long ago I tried many things, replacing one of the toothed washers with a smooth plastic one, fabricating my own rubber or fabric washers, but none worked well enough. Sure I could move the pivot easily, but with anything heavy it would gradually ‘creep’ downward no matter how much I tightened down the handle.

And then I thought back to my Dad’s (who was an engineer) never coddling words, “Boy, when you try to design anything, use the most simple design. Don’t be so stupid!” So what I decided to try was to take one of the toothed washers on each side and file them down halfway. And guess what? Dad was fucking rightAGAIN. Leaving 50% of the teeth on the washers allows them to still ‘bite’ into their corresponding toothed counterpart, but makes rotating the light stand swivel SO MUCH EASIER! No I cannot adjust it in my OCD micrometers like I like to do with brackets without teeth, but it’s way better!

When you disassemble to bracket you will notice that each removable washer has teeth on one side and molded channels on the other. Those channels keep the washer from rotating so be sure to align them when you reinstall the handle.

You can see how much material I removed from the OEM version. I used my vice and a flat file, but you can always just use a piece of sandpaper laying on a flat surface. Be careful not to sand off your fingertips! You need those to pick your noses! Hahahahaha

The other thing I like to do with both my new ADB2s as well as my Portable 600ws Extension FlashHeads are to cover them for transport. I always remove the bulbs from all units before shipping my lights. I learned my lesson after having two break when airline luggage handling monsters must have thrown my Pelican cases 1,000 yards! LOL. So I use  JTL Protective Flash Tube Covers for all of my xPLOR and extension heads. I originally purchased those covers to save space on my Rovelights, which I returned long ago. But that is another story that was resolved….

You don’t HAVE to protect the face of either, but in my mind I’d rather spend 6 bucks a cover as insurance to protect the socket holes and LED lights on each unit. It does make space savings a bit more challenging, but for me it’s worth it. For the extension heads I often insert the pronged end into the flash head, as it then protects both, but it’s tough on packing space.

So of course the bulbs wouldn’t fit when leaving them in an ADB2s with the cover I mentioned. I remove the bulbs whenever I’m shipping or packing them. So here I found that good old Edward at Cheetahstand makes these nifty Protection Caps for Cheetah Light for the 200 bulbs! So that’s what I use and they’re great. To my knowledge he’s the only one who makes or offers them.

So the bulb protector comes in that little zip lock plastic bag. On a video he has somewhere he shows how he uses a plastic bag as ‘padding’ when inserting a bulb into his little protector. Basically you place the bulb in the bag leaving space on both ends. You twist the bag so one tip looks like the head of an UNUSED condom (!) and then slide the bulb and plastic bag into the tube. The twist at the end is the padding that keeps the front of the bulb safe. Very nifty!

All tidy and ready to pack. 

I don’t know about you, but I cannot even count the number of bags I’ve amassed over the years. And my GF is CONSTANTLY telling me to ‘give some away dammit!’ but of course I never do. So this little camera bag from LowePro I bought ten years ago works PERFECTLY to hold three eVOLV 200s, two ADB2s with covers and three bulbs in their little silver nests. Perfect for heading to a local shoot…. like tonight!

Original Post

The back of the AD-B2. The slot on the left is “slot 1” and the one on the right is “slot 2”

It’s no secret that I admire the innovation of Godox’s line of strobes. The Xplor line of lights along with the eVOLV 200s are wonderful for my work. The flexibility of combining lights into a single more powerful head shows such innovation. When Godox announced that they were producing the AD-B2 bracket I was thrilled. The one thing I missed when using a bare bulb head with the eVOLV200s was a modeling light. I seldom use modeling lights to view how my modifier/angle of light/etc. is going to look. Instead I depend on modeling lights to obtain focus, as I often work in very dark places during studio sessions. And I tend to use the bare bulb attachment more than the Fresnel head which does have a built in modeling light.

I have not had the opportunity to actually ‘use‘ the light bracket yet, but plan to do so on two upcoming commercial shoots. But I needed to test the unit to see how it performs which I always do prior to using any gear on the job. I tested the bracket using an eVOLV200 with the bare bulb attachment, first with an S Bracket and then compared to the xPLOR600 using two bulbs/eVOLVs in the AD-B2. For all of the testing I used a Bowens Maxilite 65 degree General Purpose Reflector, my favorite general purpose hard reflector. The one disadvantage of the Maxlite is the depth of the mounting collar. It’s about 3/4 of an inch deeper than some other generic reflectors so it tends to sap a bit of power by having the bulb more recessed into the cone.

To compare power I used each light with the Maxlite cone attached and fired it against a white wall and then measured the f stop at the opposing wall which is about 11 feet away. I do that because I’ve found it replicates the amount of power loss I get when using modifiers. This is NOT a scientific test, so if you’re looking for EXACT measurements you’d be better served looking elsewhere or doing it yourself.  I used a Sekonic L-358 meter set at 1/100th shutter speed ISO 100. Here are my findings:

1 eVOLV200 using a single bulb

  • S Bracket (bulb is pushed into the cone at the same distance of the AD-B2’s bulb) f11
  • AD-B2 f13

Next I used the AD-B2 with two eVOVLs and 2 bulbs

  • xPLOR600 f18
  • AD-B2 with two bulbs f18

So it appears that light leaking out of the back of the S bracket may cause a small loss of power. It also may be an advantage that the AD-B2 has a more reflective surface than an S Bracket which has none. More interesting is the 600’s results compared to the AD-B2 with two bulbs! I can only surmise that it may be due to the 600’s bulb being more recessed into the cone than the AD-B2’s…..

When only using one eVOLV200 you can either place the bulb in the center or in the top socket.

It “appears” to me that the three step modeling light is brighter than my xPLOR600. But it may just be wishful thinking….

My trusty Bowens Maxlite reflector.

One unit in slot 1

You can see that the xPLOR600’s bulb sits more recessed into the Maxlite by about 3/4 of an inch.

The bulb(s) of the AD-B2 sit further into my Maxlite which ‘may’ explain the added power compared to the xPLOR

Here you can see that the Bowns Maxlite has a collar that is deeper than other reflectors.

In the images below you can see the weight difference for yourself.

You should note that the AD-B2’s swivel adjustment handle does NOT pull out like the S bracket or the xPLOR600 handles. I don’t think it will be an issue, but won’t know that until I actually use it in the field.

I will say that I plan to purchase two more of the AD-B2 units. They are very reasonable in price and the advantage of having a modeling light(s) and the ability to use two unit when needed is wonderful. I will update this post once I utilize the unit(s) on the job.

01 Apr 2017

Review Godox/Wistro AD600BM Strobe – updated 1-26-18

UPDATE January 26 2018

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

UPDATE 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.

The two eVOLV200s in the AD-B2 can be seen behind the Cheetahstand Quick Strip box in the center of the seamless.

Full body shot of the talent as she performed a leap into the air.

Full crop of the necklace to illustrate the stopping power of the strobes.

UPDATE November 8 2017

My client has used several of the publicity imagery in and around the greater Seattle area on billboards and bus banners. All created with xPLOR/eVOLV/Godox lights.

UPDATE October 20 2017

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

UPDATE October 19 2017

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

UPDATE October 2 2017

I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.

UPDATE September 10 2017

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

UPDATE September 8 2017

In my post about the Parabolix 35D I have some of my recent client work which was just released. All of the imagery was created using xPLOR 600 lights along with associated remote heads.

UPDATE: July 29 2017

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

UPDATE July 17 2017

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

UPDATE JULY 10 2017

My client has released their season brochure where I exclusively utilized Flashpoint Xplor and Evolv strobes to create their imagery. You can view those final images and a short BTS video here.

UPDATE: May 4 2017

Back in January 2017 one of my clients spent two days with me to create publicity imagery for their 2017-18 Season Brochure. For many of my theatre clients season brochure imagery is one of the most important marketing instruments of the year. But like most I’m tied to NDAs and cannot display the imagery until much later. On top of all that Village Theatre agreed to take a chance and change their entire format for the brochure based upon the recommendation of myself and the graphics genius I’ve worked with for seven years. I like to change things about every three years, even IF the prior campaigns have been successful and since they just had their largest subscription year ever, making a change was risky. But we did and the results were met with overwhelming approval.

The entire session was shot with Xplor/Godox 600 lights/remote heads. This is a complete departure from using my beloved PCB Einsteins in the past. I have found the battery life, color temperature, t:1/t:5 performance equal to my former strobes. The innovation of Godox combined with the US service and warranty of Adorama makes a killer combination for my work.

BTS of the two day session:

Because I travel to this client I cannot take my 59″ Westcott Zeppelin, it’s just too large for airline regulations. But as you can see I utilized all Xplor/Godox lights running on battery power only for two days. All grip gear is rented, but the lights and modifiers are ones I bring from my home location.

The Xplor/Godox remote heads are incredible and allow so much flexibility. Here I’m using one with one of my favorite modifiers, the Cononmark 120cm.

I always shoot tethered. Here the Marketing Director/Talent, wardrobe and makeup staff are reviewing the shots between takes.

Final imagery with graphics applied:

Season Brochure Cover

UPDATE: April 18 2017

Today I conducted a client’s publicity shoot using the Xplor 600 combined with an eVOLV 200. The Xplor was used as a key light through an Elinchrom Rotalux modifier. The eVOLV 200 was used as my rim light with the Fresnel head/barn doors/grid on a boom arm. Wonderful combination! Camera was my Pentax 645Z.

Key light using the Xplor 600

The lights behind the backdrop are the makeup lights for the talent. They were turned off for the shoot.

One of the final publicity images.

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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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17 Mar 2016

Review – CononMark  Indirect Deep Parabolic Softbox 120cm – UPDATED 11-21-17

UPDATE: November 21 2017

Another photographer contacted me via this post to ask me about the CononMark. He sent me photos of his unit and I can confirm that it is ‘backwards’ meaning the focusing rod is in the wrong direction. He also stated that some of his rods are not screwed all the way in so it makes it difficult to assemble the unit. I suggested he return it for a replacement or refund.

On his unit the swivel is on the interior of the modifier. It should be on the outside.

On my unit the swivel and focusing rod adjustment knob are in the correct position.

Another shot of his ‘backwards’ focusing rod. It appears that CononMark has modified the focusing rod since I purchased mine by fabricating a collar on the end of the rod. Mine has a threaded knob to keep the rod from running through the swivel.

I reversed my circular panel when I received mine as the white portion was facing the inside of the modifier. I prefer to light qualities of the silver face, so I simply reversed the face of the reflector.

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 August 21 2017

I have been using the CononMark 120 for a little over a year now in many of my commercial shoots. I have been very pleased with the light it produces along with its durability. Keep in mind that I don’t leave any of my modifiers constantly assembled since I travel TO client shoots in different states and either haul or rent gear. The one small gripe I have with the CononMark is the rod ends which go into the actual modifier can come out of their pockets so I have to check when assembling if all are in place. Other manufacturers like Cheetahstand, Parabolix and Westcott have a better rod retention systems. I have recently written my thoughts about the Parabolix 35D where I also speak about the CononMark. You will read loads of forums about whether a modifier is actually ‘parabolic’ in shape. I would advise you NOT to place an undo amount of credibility on the theory of a modifier being an exact parabola. The shape of any modifier does have an influence on the light BUT there are TONS of other factors that come into play. Distance from talent, tension of the fabric, texture of the fabric, depth of the strobe in the modifier, on and on and on and on. What you will find is almost all of the trolls touting the EXACT nature of a modifier’s parabolic shape seldom and more often NEVER display their work. How can anyone decide if any tool is correct for their own uses based solely on theory? Photography is totally subjective. When you buy a car listed at 240 horsepower, do you take it to an independent dyno lab to have it actually measure the output at the rear wheels for horsepower? Does it really matter that much or does it simply stroke your ego to say “My car has 240 HP!” And even if it DOES have 240 HP that doesn’t mean shit unless you know how to drive and USE that power. 

My point is if possible rent or borrow gear you’re thinking about buying. Try it, see how it works for YOU and YOUR client base. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. But one thing is certain, those who simply spew out statistics and theoretical bull shit are never going to help anyone other than their own need to ‘be right.’ They are the ones who carry a print out of a Histogram instead of  the photo to show “How they achieved a perfect histogram in the photo.”

UPDATE 10-18-16

Here are two images taken with the CononMark as the key light.

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UPDATE 10-3-16

You can see some of the results from a recent studio dance session using the CononMark here.

UPDATE 3-1-16

CononMark was used as the key light in this studio ballet session. Strobe was the Godox AD600 using a H600 remote head.

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BTS shot. Dancers l-r; Emily Dixon, Christy Martin, Natalie Anton, Kaitlyn McDermitt.

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Dancer: Emily Dixon Colorado Ballet

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Dancer: Kaitlyn McDermitt Avant Chamber Ballet

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Dancer: Natalie Anton Avant Chamber Ballet

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29 Sep 2015

form function form

I tend to be the type of fella who keeps stuff. Not in the way you’d think of a hoarder (although my gf may beg to differ), but in terms of how long I use things I own. My last car was over 20 years old with just over 260,000 miles. I plan on keeping my current car at least that long which in my view means the rest of my natural life. I have the same pocket lighter I’ve had for 30 years. I carry a Don Maxwell handmade pocket knife I’ve owned for only 10 years, but it will be buried with me. I’ve kept my wristwatches until parts are no longer available to fix them. You get the point.

I appreciate hand crafted items, those that are made well and are supremely functional. And just like my taste in restaurants, I lean toward finding mom and pop gems, those establishments owned by a person, not stockholders because I find quality is more than just their latest PowerPoint Titling, it’s their passion.

DSCF7891

Shawn Reed’s business motto

25 years ago I wanted to begin carrying a wallet that held a pad of paper and a pen. There were times I wanted to leave a note for someone, or jot down some of my thoughts. The internet didn’t exist in my world (or many others) so it was old school researching for ‘something’ I had in my mind. I finally found just what I was looking for at Edward’s Luggage. A small leather wallet with a corresponding sized pad of paper along with an integrated pen holder made out of leather. I substituted the cheap pen which came with that wallet with a Fisher Space Pen. Since purchasing the item I have never been without it.

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27 Feb 2015

Westcott 59″ Zeppelin Review

UPDATE: August 2 2017

I have written a separate article about using a Cheetahstand Chop Stick with a Westcott Zeppelin. You can read that article here.

UPDATE: 2-27-2015

I really love the Broncolor Para line of modifiers which allows you to adjust the light from full to spot by simply pushing the strobe in or out of the parabolic modifier. BUT it’s 4700.00! So I improvised and rigged up my Westcott Zeppelin to do the same thing.

The Zeppelin has a zipper at the bottom of the modifier, so you can put a light up into the modifer and move it back and forth. BUT since I tend to move my light around quite a bit during any given session having to move TWO lighttands is a pain in the you know what. And I cuss enough even when things are going great.

At the end of the boom I will install a PCB Einstein using their on axis ring normally used for their PLM line of parabolic umbrellas. This allows me to place the strobe dead center in the modifier.

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25 Jul 2014

Review – Westcott’s IceLight

5500-WST-2

Westcott’s IceLight

Just this week I was scheduled to shoot a publicity session for one of my regular clients. As I was setting up Dan said “Hey Mark, did you bring your IceLight and barn doors?” I thought to myself Huh? I had used the unit about two months prior on a different shoot, how could he even remember what lighting instrument I used? My clients seldom if EVER mention what I’m using for gear. (well except when I use my little Fuji X`100S affectionately named by my clients as Mark’s Little Instamatic) More on this later…

Let me ‘rewind’ about one year, maybe a bit more or less. Tracy, my partner in business and life read some information about something called an IceLight and was quite excited. She loves working with constant light especially since she was developing her skills in film making. As usual I was a bit hesitant about purchasing something new so I suggested we rent one to try. What I initially found was the lumens were not quite what I was accustomed to since I normally use 640ws strobes, Einsteins to be exact. She loved the unit, but of course my comment “Babe the retail on those things is the same as the retail on our Steins which we use all the time. I don’t think we’d have much regular use for those, let’s wait.”

Later that year I was reading Gregory Heisler’s book “50 Portraits” and was completely captivated by his work using constant light sources. So like the fool I am I announced to Tracy “Hey babe, let’s try using constant light for some of our work. I think it has real application and I think it would be best if we buy two. One is fine if we did this for a hobby, two would give us a lot more flexibility. “ Now for anyone who has a wife, girlfriend or significant other you will completely relate to the body posture, tone and statement which was uttered through clenched teeth as a result of my spoken ‘revelation.’ Enough said and I’ve never pretended to be smart….

I’ve used the IceLights as a key light, fill light and when anything that flashes would just be out of the question. Case in point. I was asked to photograph Jaap van Zweden the world famous conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and I was allowed to sit IN the orchestra, dead center during a rehearsal. The lights in the Meyerson Auditorium are great for viewing but absolutely horrid for photographing a conductor. Directly overhead and without any fill, Jaap’s eye are completely shaded by his brow line, making his eyes appear dead and lifeless.

MKitaoka_140619_3958

Some may ask themselves “Why not use a reflector?” Great question except with a conductor who MOVES passionately while conducting keeping the sweet light where you want it is impossible. Plus one MUST consider that a reflector is going to obstruct the view for some of the orchestra members who must watch the conductor. Because the form factor of the IceLight is so thin, none of those issues were a problem and made it the perfect light instrument for that job. I combined Westcott’s tungsten gel and barn door with just enough of an opening to cover his movement and not obstruct the view of the violin players since the light was placed camera right, right where the concert masters sit.

I sometimes use a Fresnel 1000w spotlight with a gobo for some of my sessions. Such was the case with Laetitia, a Cirque hoop aerialist during an action portrait session. Again a reflector was out of the question since she’s moving. I used one IceLight to fill in her face since being backlit by the Fresnel with haze rendered her face too dark without the IceLight.

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There have also been times when I’ve used a projector on the talent to place graphics either in the scene or actually on him as in the case of this violinist.  Due to the very low lumens afforded by a projector sending a graphic blowing out the graphics is very easy to do with a strobe or hand held flash. Only highlighting his face was my goal for this shot using a single IceLight.

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Playing in the Mohave Desert with an IceLight using gaff tape to make lines for a long exposure.

 

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A publicity shot of Samantha. This is the image which prompted my client Dan,  to ask “Did you bring the IceLight and barn doors?!”

 

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An environmental portrait of Peter the DSO’s stage manager using an IceLight and tungsten gel to match the ambient. Maintaining a balanced ambient for the environment was key to this shot.

 

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Environmental portrait of Allison using an IceLight and gel to balance the candles and Christmas lights while ensuring her gorgeous face was the star of this image.

 

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Although the ambient diffused sunlight for this shot was beautiful I needed to gently fill in Allison’s face so I hid a single IceLight behind the curtain on the far right.

What do I love about them? Portability, ease of use and its slim profile. What would I change? I’d like to have the intensity setting kept in memory so when I turn the unit back on, it’s in the same lumen state as when I turned it off. I’ve also noticed that although you can use the units plugged in, it appears that the battery is used first and then it recharges itself. So if I need to unplug the unit and use it without power I’m sunk if the battery was run low.

What do I hate? Not having two more! Is it the perfect lighting instrument? Oh hell no, but what is a perfect lighting instrument? Is it perfect for the right application? Absolutely!

I said at the beginning of this article that Dan remembered the IceLight which in and of itself was remarkable. But what was more striking is his memory of how the image I created looked using an IceLight. I really think he just wants one for his own iPhone shots!

27 Feb 2014

Forced Patience

I’m always surprised how the majority of posts on photography forums focus primarily on ‘gear’ and ‘which is better.’ It’s as if most people are vapor locked on what type of gear they purchase rather than improving their own skills. Yes, we all wish to improve our craft in creating images and gear is a part of that equation, but the amount of effort and discussion seems to focus on the exact opposite of what would improve one’s own creation of photos. If the amount of effort on gear was placed into other areas, ah but I digress….

Like most photographers be they pro or amateur, all of us know the excitement of getting what we think is a great shot and the desire to share it as soon as possible. In this digital age that means displaying your work through some sort of social media or other form of immediate gratification.

But in the commercial photography world, immediate gratification takes a back seat to business needs and NDAs. So much of what we shoot commercially is shot with extended lead times to be of any value. Marketing materials are carefully planned months or in some cases years in advance. As such, once the shots are in the bag it’s up to the client to decide on the imagery’s strategic timing for public release. And because of that we’re not allowed to display those images on our own sites or through social media. And by the time the images are released publicly we’ve been on to other projects for months. Whenever I receive a client’s marketing materials, I’ve often forgot that I shot that session!

I have two separate client sessions in this article. One was for Dallas Symphony Orchestra and another was for Village Theatre’s publicity for Les Miserables.

Dallas Symphony’s Beets Campaign

The photos I display here were taken in July 2013 and released to the public in late Fall of 2013, about four months after I shot the “Beets Campaign” (Beethoven Festival) for Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Performances begin April 28 2014, almost 9 full months from when I originally shot the session.

https://www.dallassymphony.com/season-tickets/single-tickets.aspx?ProductionType=9

About two months prior to the shoot, the VP of Marketing along with some of the Marketing staff and I began a conversation about the overall look, feel and messaging they wished to achieve with the imagery. Rather than presenting musician’s in tuxedos playing music, the VP wanted a much more ‘scandalous’ look, one that coincided with the public’s reaction to Beethoven’s music in that actual time period. When written and performed his music was actually quite scandalous to the audience of that time. Music is all about emotion and the VP wanted a reaction to his campaign that would evoke emotion…and boy it certainly did and in a very good way!

We agreed that on location sessions would be much more effective than shooting the talent in front of seamless and then dropping them into graphics treatments. On location (I refer to them as ‘onlo’) is my favorite type of publicity shooting. Why? Well it forces me to be creative in developing the imagery by not counting on graphics folks to make the imagery have production value. The right location with the right lighting has a richness that just can’t quite be replicated with graphics. Well at least that’s my opinion… Plus I have to be both patient and think quickly on my feet about what the client wants and how I will execute it. The client developed Mood Boards and sent them to me so we could begin discussions on exactly the mood we wished to create for the campaign.

Most non pros have the impression that commercial shooters are able to scout locations months or weeks in advance and carefully plan out the angles, lighting and time of day to shoot. For me that happens on rare occasions and when that happens it’s a true luxury. But in this case the VP simply said, “I’d like to shoot it over at the AT&T Center, I like the juxtapose of a modern building combined with period piece costumes we’re using. We can look around at the locations when you get here.” For all of these shots I had about ten minutes to scout each location around the building and then decide how I was going to light them and shoot them. Should I use natural light? Which camera will be the best for this job? If I need more contrast how many negative reflectors should I use? Do I want motion blur in the image, if so should I drag the shutter or use second curtain sync with a Speedlight? What gels if any do I need to match the ambient? Oh I’m shooting in front of windows, how will I place the light/reflectors/etc. so I don’t get reflections or bounce off the windows I don’t want? (No I’m not of the school that all those things can be ‘corrected’ in post. Getting it right in camera is my preferred method) ALL of these decisions are made quickly because we don’t often if ever have the luxury of time. If you’ve never been ‘the talent’ or the art director, try getting IN FRONT of the camera and you’ll see what YOU consider to be a short amount of time while you are making your adjustments can seem like an eternity to your subject.

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Beethoven Festival Brochure Mailer

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Shot with a single PCB Einstein through a 52″ parabolic reflector

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Five PCB Einsteins used to light this. Key light shot through a 12×12′ scrim off to camera right.

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A single Canon Speedlight shot through a 61″ parabolic to obtain the motion blur using second curtain sync

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Four PCB Einsteins used. One beauty dish to camera left, one Einstein to camera right in order to illuminate her hair and two key lights to camera right. Keeping reflections off the windows here was key.

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Original shot for building banner. Shot with a Fuji X100S, a single Einstein through at 51″ parabolic high specular modifier.

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18×80 foot building banner

 

Les Miserables Publicity

This publicity session was what I called my “First Date” with this client for publicity. I had been previously hired by them to shoot production of another performance, but had never been hired to do publicity. The Marketing Director had seen some of my onlo publicity imagery for other clients and thought it would be great to do one for their production of Les Miz. In this case we took a day to drive around the area to look for just the right setting. I knew that the location needed to replicate the script, stone walls, old wooden doors etc. As we drove around the area I found a couple of “OK” locations, but nothing that really floated by boat.

So I made a call to my partner back in the Bay Area. We normally work together, but since we were double booked (when you’re self employed I call that a ‘pretty girl problem!’) she was back home covering another client’s session. I asked her to get on the Web to look for an old church or rock quarry. In about ten minutes she called back and said “All of the churches close to you are modern and won’t do for what you’re looking for. I checked out a rock quarry very close to you on Google Earth. I can’t tell because the view is from their satellite shot straight down, but it looks like a a great possible for you. Here’s the address. Gotta run, heading to the client shoot, good luck.”

So the Marketing Director and I drove over to the rock quarry and I IMMEDIATELY fell in love with the venue. We spoke with the owner and he was more than willing to allow us to shoot there on the date we wanted for a couple of tickets to the performance. He even went on to say that if our date was when they were closed, he’d be happy to come in and open the place up for us.

So on the day of the shoot the weather was projected to be rain. The Marketing Director called me and said “Mark, what do we do if it rains, I’m nervous!?” I simply said, “If you can have three people there with umbrellas you don’t have to worry.” My plan was to have those three stand over my strobes with their umbrellas so that strobes and power packs were protected. I was actually hoping it would rain because I felt it would add to the ambient atmosphere of the shot and I’ve shot with my 1DX in full rain without a problem. On the day of the shoot, it did rain, but only lightly and the cloud cover was PERFECT for the session. For you gear heads I used PCB Einsteins and his Vagabond Mini power packs. Paul’s lighting is my preferred studio strobe equipment.

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Shot with two PCB Einsteins. Behind Greg is a parking lot full of cars and trucks. Shot a light with a cone modifier through the arch to reduce ambient behind him and blacken out the parking lot. Key light is a single Einstein held camera left high by an assistant. Shot with a variable ND filter set to -6 stops with a 1DX

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Single Einstein used through a specular modifier, Elinchrom deep octa camera right held by an assistant. (voice activated light stand!)

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Single Einstein with cone reflector. Negative reflector to camera left. Variable ND filter used on a 1DX set to -4 stops

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Two Einsteins. One shot from behind the subject with a cone to reduce office ambient and to produce the dramatic shadow. Second key light to camera left shot through an Elinchrom deep octa. I wet the pavement to add reflection to the shot.

 

Being patient means KNOWING your equipment front to back, no matter what type of camera/lighting you’re using. Your client could care less if you’re using a Nikon, Canon, Fuji or other camera or whether you’re a Profoto fan or Uncle Bob’s strobe user. They could care less if you’re a full frame guy or gal, use a cropped sensor or not. The PICTURE tells the story and how well you know how to think on your feet, exhibit creativity on the run, keep the talent engaged and get a photo better than they ever imagined are elements that separate the men from the fan boys!

Whether you shoot for your entire income, are a ‘semi pro’ or just shoot for the pure enjoyment of the craft, be patient. For me that means taking the time to truly know your gear, all of it. Practice, read, experiment and have fun with what you already have. I get as much fun as the next guy when I want to buy something new. But the real difference is how I USE my gear, not what brand it is or its stats. To a client In the commercial world, you’re only as good as your last session. They’ve trusted me with their whole marketing campaign based on my shooting style and consistency in delivering a great product. Practice, know your existing gear and develop a body of work. One great shot leads to a second great shot. The difference between a good or nice shot and a great one is huge. And that comes only through forced patience.